Waiting for help
On Saturday October 22, Barbados TODAY and CapitalMedia HD 99.3 will stand in solidarity with Haiti as they team up to stage a Radiothon to raise funds for the country ravaged by Hurricane Matthew.
This week, we will feature the stories of Haitians as they coped with the disaster.
by Nicole Best, CMC
JEREMIE, Haiti – It’s two o’ clock in the afternoon in the District of Grand Anse in the south-western part of Haiti. In the coastal town of Jeremie, the sky grows dark and thunder claps overhead as a man scrambles to put a tarpaulin over what is left of his house.
The clouds burst and the rains come even before he can finish. But at least he has a structure on which to put a tarpaulin.
Melange Pierre’s story is quite different – she lost everything. Before Hurricane Matthew struck she lived in a small, poorly constructed house with the rest of her family – 21 of them.
The young mother of two is staying at the Grand Anse Public School in Jeremie, which is being used as a shelter. She said all except one of the people in her house have been staying at the shelter since the Category 4 hurricane dealt a severe blow to the impoverished French Caribbean country, beleaguered by a series of natural disasters and political instability.
But her story is about to take a bizarre twist for the worse as she, along with the other 414 occupants, are being told they have to leave the shelter so that it can be cleaned and sanitized for school .
“My house was destroyed. I have nothing,” she said, looking up from her position on the ground where she hovered over a shallow tub, washing clothes for herself and her toddlers, as children played, a woman slept on the floor in the corner of the classroom, a kitten – tied to a chair – walked the perimeter of his leash, and a kerosene stove boiled a pot with what is supposed to be food for the day.
“I need a house, somewhere to sleep and things to put in it,” Melange tells the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
The residents at other shelters around Jeremie and Les Cayes are also being told they have to move out.
Officials say this has become necessary not only to begin the process of restoration but to avert a possible health crisis as new cases of cholera are being reported.
Since the passage of Matthew, 139 new cases have been reported in the Grand Anse District alone.
None of the reported cases have come from shelters. But that does not mean that the shelters are without their challenges.
Simon Frantzsy is a member of the Shelter Committee at Jeremie and he said the needs of the people are many and varied.
“They need potable water and food. There are people [whose] homes have been destroyed and they need to rebuild,” he explained.
“As you can see, there are children; you have to provide. They need things. For example, there are babies and they need diapers and there is no money to buy anything.”
“We have a problem. There are children who are not well, there are children with the cold, children with fever; that means they need medication,” Frantzsy added.
“We have a strategy. We’re first going to work with the people who have a structure and give them tarpaulins because the schools have to open; that’s how life will start again,” says Brian, a volunteer with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
But up until this point, there is no strategy for the people who have lost everything, except that the authorities promised in a stakeholders meeting, that the people who have lost their homes will not be put on the streets. So, Melange’s predicament continues.
Restoring the century old town of Jeremie is no easy task, as over 90 per cent of the housing stock, predominantly wooden structures, has been either damaged or completely destroyed. The other 10 per cent nestled in the hills that rise up from the Caribbean Sea, are built on unstable foundations with substandard material.
But destroyed houses and destitute people are not the only problems in the quaint coastal town with narrow streets. Sanitation is a major problem, with garbage piled everywhere giving off a putrid smell that seems to go unnoticed by its residents, who cook and trade admist it.
Added to that, the town is politically polarized and that has been affecting distribution of supplies to those who need it most.
Inspector General in Haiti’s National Guard, Jean Saint Fleur said the situation was so hostile and volatile that he was sent from Port-au-Prince to restore a sense of order to Jeremie.
“The security is important,” Saint Fleur said.
“Without security, if you come with food, if you come with building materials and equipment, the bandits will offload, they will clear, parcel and distribute. They would injure or kill you; people will die and that is why…all policemen must be deployed for security, to secure the convoys and to secure distribution.”
Saint Fleur said he was “responsible for evacuating all people in vulnerable areas and structures – voluntarily or by force.”
“When I understood the type of damage that can be caused by a Category 4 hurricane and I showed them the sea water rising from Monday, that is when they agreed to evacuate.”
Early warning and mass evacuation are being touted as the reasons the death toll – which is yet to be confirmed, since at least four communities in the mountainous interior of Jeremie have not yet been reached – is so low.
The Delegate (political/parliamentary representative) for Grand Anse, Kedner Frenel, described his district as a war zone, saying “when you look at the situation here, it is as if a bomb has been dropped on the district.”
“After October 3rd, the department has changed. We’ve lost 95 per cent of our agriculture and what we need is solidarity from the national government and the international donors.”
But Frenel sees this as an occasion for infrastructural development in the district and says “if we don’t take this opportunity, it would be like setting ourselves back by 25 years.”
In the meantime, the rain continues to fall in Jeremie, the pigs rummage through the garbage for dinner, Melange waits for a home for herself, her children and the other 18 members of the household, and two children surf in the angry waves on small pieces of plywood, seemingly unaffected by the chaos permeating their cherished town.