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VIDEO PRODUCTION - GROUND ZERO HAITI
- ARTICLE - by Bradley Rae
HAITI: A LAYER CAKE OF DISASTER
And in the aftermath, the unthinkable began to unfold...
Presently, there’s been little constructive organization of the masses beyond the endless tent cities or encampments that blotch the landscape. These encampments house anywhere from a 100 people up to 40000, and most are seriously lacking in sanitation. Efforts in moving them to more strategic locations are underway but the task is proving extraordinarily difficult with so many in desperate need of bare essentials and medical attention. Local and foreign medical teams are operating beyond their limit, as well are food and supply depots, with the destitute and injured standing in lines stretching for blocks around the city.
These people are going nowhere, at least not anytime soon, which gives rise to a whole different layer of problems as the skies darken and the rainy season approaches; for with the rain, comes the possibility of diseases spreading throughout the camps. If this happens, if such diseases as cholera, typhoid or dysentery take hold across the demolished city, where large groups of people are crammed in together amongst the rubble, it could prove truly devastating. Desperate work is in progress to clear the drainage systems of debris before the rains start, but it’s unlikely, if not futile, this undertaking.
Floodwater laden with vast amounts of garbage will hit the city like a tsunami of pollution descending from the surrounding mountains, meandering through the streets of Port-Au-Prince with the heavy rains expected come May. This happens every year.
The ex-Prime Minister of Haiti, Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, spoke with noted dread, of the inevitability of such events in a recent interview with a US network. Add to this deluge the raw sewerage from the camps and the large number of decomposing bodies still beneath the ruins, and the situation becomes even more desperate and critical. As noted by Dr David Walton of Partners in Health, '...the rainy season and poor sanitary conditions will simply exacerbate the spread of Cholera... a 1000 fold.' And with the hurricane season on its way, the tent cities are further burdened by the serious threat of but a single severe storm hitting the country head-on. This could leave hundreds and thousands of people without shelter, totally unprotected in the raging elements when they have no where else to go. Most buildings that are still standing in Port-Au-Prince and surrounding areas are marred with giant cracks and are perilously unstable, and that’s in dry conditions. Add water to the mix, as in incessant downpours and monsoons, and many more buildings and houses are sure to tumble, taking any desperate enough to dare their interiors, with them. To walk the tent camps is to see quite obviously the problems that are certain to arise. And the time for preventative action is passing under the present system where the UN and NGOs are running the country, which is a huge problem in itself.
The UN and NGOs are faced with an unprecedented situation. They are not meant to run a country, to assume such responsibilities as rebuilding streets and sewerage canals and homes and schools and hospitals to near everything else in between. This is the role of government. President Preval argues in response to the broad criticism over his handling of the disaster, that his government was simply caught unaware, and with a fault line literally passing through the now fragmented presidential palace, one must concede to the impossibility of what his government is facing. The UN did much the same as Perval did when it closed its doors for the first week following the quake. It was simply overwhelmed, and unable to cope.
Update: With the onslaught of a hurricane and subsequent flooding, and the limited progress in establishing a unified, coordinated relief effort between the UN and NGOs, a cholera epidemic swept across Haiti eight months after the disaster. Over 500 000 people became infected with the disease. Thousands died.
Article and photographs by photojournalist, Bradley Rae