Haiti Earthquake Diary
A Compendium of the work in Haiti between 29th of December 2009 and 10th of March 2010:
Earthquake (January 13th)
Yesterday at 4.53pm local Haitian time (GMT-5) an extremely tough earthquake has occurred in Haiti. The Epicentre was located some 15km South West from the capital Port-au-Prince, which has been touched in full strength.
In the Centre province, where I am still located, we still felt some strong waves on the ground. I was on my way home from work. Together with my colleague Saidou from German Development Service (DED) we had stopped to see a cock fight (what a bitter irony). All the people were quite trembled and anxious when the earth started moving under our feet. Albeit we rapidly realized that the quake did not really hit our zone and went home later. Straight after the quake, all mobile communication networks totally broke down. Thus we were not able to communicate with ou colleagues in Port-au-Prince. Same applied for the few local radio netwoks that managed to continue broadcasting. Bit by bit they managed though to get some information. One radio journalist was able to establish contact with his sister in the US. There around 7.00pm all major news channels slowly began to coomunicate that a major catastrophy had happened around Port-au-Prince and the guy asked his audience for any additional information concerning the situation in the capital. As the radios continued to provide few informations except some rumours about lots of houses having crashed, Saidou and myself decided to go back to the office – in the hope that we would be able to access internet there.
We were lucky since the FAES/DED bureau in Hinche is connected to an satellite internet network and thus we were able to see the news of the major international news stations. Unfortunately the situation in Port-au-Prince was this chaotic that only the Reuters guy based there had given some real informations on what had happened – and any channel was reproducing that information. Later in the evening, around 10pm one of the local radios had succeeded in establishing contact to one of the capitals radio stations. We got some new information, telling us that government authorities had seriously been touched, too. People were called to stay outside during the night.
Later this channel was blocked again and we had no more news during the night. I went to sleep and was thankful to have some hours of relaxing, though several smaller quakes still occurred during the night. This morning we went to the bureau quite early. All colleagues from our project partner FAES had left around 6am to go to Port-au-Prince to look after their families and houses there. By different news stations in the internet we could get an impression of the whole disastre going on some 100km away from our place. I realized that things are really serious (since last night we could not draw a real picture of the events taking place) as even huge buildings had totally collapsed. For example, the presidential palace is ruined and even the headquarters of MINUSTAH (the Haitian UN peacekeeping mission) was destroyed, probably burying the missions head from Tunisia and several other high-ranking UN officials. I mention those two critical institutions in the same breath than lots of Haitian ministries, police departments and especially hospitals because I think, that the fact those had been affected so much by the quake, might sharply influence the coordination of rescue and relif measures.
Up to now there is still no informations about the number of corpses, collapsed buildings and people stuck in the ruins. I am deeply concerned about the situation in the capitals numerous shantytowns like Cite Soleil – as there the baracks and houses are really sensible and prone to destructions, it might be possible that riots are started by the people from those areas – hampering all the relief actors. Further electricity and mobile communication remains out of function, medical assistance is not yet able to cope with all the need on the streets and the risk of diseases may increase if that lack of relief will not be resolved in the next hours.
We have been told to stay in Hinche until further notice since the risk of pillages and similar things cannot be calculated up to this moment and the coordination of relief organizations has still not really begun due to infrastructure and communication constraints. In case there will be the need I might be ready to go to Port-au-Prince within the next days. Of course I am not a doctor, neither an experienced disastre relief worker but my language skills could be of worth for some coordination and organization work. Anyways I will not start uncoordinated journeys to that zone, rather I will be waiting here in Hinche how things are further developing and remain waiting in the wings. This afternoon our remaining group here – that is safe for the moment – will go for some “hoardings” of rice, noodles and other stuff, because the only threat we actualy face in this area is that food provision from the capital is going to collapse due to the demand there.
As soon as I have more to tell or anything changes here I will try to communicate it by this site or some facebook or twitter updates. But, please do not worry about my person…
Haiti Earthquake Update (January 15th)
As we got several problems here in Hinche/Centre province, I was not able to connect myself to the net earlier than now. We are facing serious scarcity of fuel and gasoline, thus internet access is limited as it depends heavily on power generators. We also try to establish a kind of transport bridge to support people in Port-au-Prince, but this has not been possible so far, due to the lack of fuel and gasoline and further the lack of information concerning the security around the metropolitan area. Every day we get new information about the situation around the capital which is extremely deplorable and almost hopeless. We also hear more and more rumours about pillages and riots starting there, but nothing has been confirmed so far. Here in Hinche the situation remains stable, apart from the lack of fuel and gasoline there are no major threats by now, water and food supply remains stable. Nevertheless we prepare ourselves to flee to the dominican republic in case things get worse here.
Up to now, I may our situation as that of so-called luxury prisoners. I choose that description because we have almost everything we need, including a rather secure ambiance, but we are stuck here and cannot really engage ourselves in rescue measures, which apparently still not have really begun. For the moment I cannot really give an outlook on what will happen the next days, but I hope that there will be some developments, as well in the capital as concerning our mobility and ability to help. I will try to keep you informed on this webpage as well as through email and my facebook account, but I cannot promise when I will be able to access the net again. Please spread the information and do not worry. Thank you!
Update (January 16th)
This report has been written Friday, 15th of January, 2pm.
The situation in Haiti seems to worsen more and more as time goes by. Whilst writing this I am listening to one of the very few national radio stations that are still working, Radio “Signal FM”. This station has cancelled its whole programme in order to give a full-time coverage on the post-earthquake events around Port-au-Prince. As information sources remain very scarce at this stage, it is difficult for the local journalists to give a fully elaborated picture of the recent situation. After having consulted various international media this morning, I got the impression that same applies for them.
At Signal FM various politician remaining in the capital are giving statements on the current developments in Port-au-Prince. They all seem very worried on how aid and relief mesasures may go on there. In between the interviews, several citizen are permitted to issue calls for help, considering specific locations where people are still missed and/or give signs that they are alive under huge bunches of stones and such. I am very concerned about the fact that they might be dead when rescue teams finally will arrive. Up to now, the greater international organisations, such as UN, MSF, CARE and other are not able to draw a precise picture of their working ground. Reports state that at least 50000 people have died, 300000 had lost their homes and about 10% of the capital had been totally destroyed. In my view these a rather conservative estimations, driven by the interest not to cause further panic and influenced by the fact that the real impact of this catastrophy can still not be enumerated. This noon I spoke to the regional director of FAES, the parastatal development institution I was considered to work with (before the quake happened) in collaboration with the German Development Service DED. He had gone to the capital together with almost all the FAES staff, as they all have their families there.
He was lucky to have found his family without any victims and has brought them to Hinche this morning. During our conversation he could give my some further eyewitness information. Amongst other things he mentioned that official numbers (of victims, wounded etc.) might be absolutely underestimated. He had a lot of difficulties to reach his relatives. I took almost two days due to blocked roads all over the city, huge crowds on the streets desperately looking for water, food, technical equipment to rescue others and medical equipment to care about wounded and sick people. He mentioned that there were no means to get food, water and people were using the streets as toilets. An immense humanitarian emergency will rise due to diseases being able to grow on this fertile ground. Considering the security in the city, he was very worried about possible riots. As I mentioned earlier there are already lots of rumours, in the radio as well people were telling about armed gangs, partly coming from the famous shantytowns Cite Soleil and Bel Air, profiting from an environment where absolutely no authority is in function to care about public life and security. This coincides with a situation in which the presidential palace collapsed as well as the juridical centre of the country. Further all ministries but that of culture are destroyed. Several ministers, senators, deputies and other government staff are among the victims, President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have survived but seem not capable to cope with the tasks they are confronted with. The Headquarters of MINUSTAH, the 11000 people UN mission to stabilize Haiti has collapsed and became a grave for alomost the whole leading panel, including the mission’s head Hedi Annabi. Major prisons in town were destroyed by the earthquake, criminals were able to get out and are trolling around in Port-au-Prince now.
As we do not have lots of fuel and gasoline here, in Port-au-Prince there seem nothing to be left at all. Electricity network is out of function since about 72 hours and out of the major telecommunication companies only one is working in the capital, another one from time to time (here in Hinche the lack of communication is even higher). The international airport in the capital is used as a substitute headquarters for governmental and international aid operations. At least it remains working as an airport, too: The first relief airplanes could land with the help of US soldiers (as the tower was seriously damaged) and apparently there had been some evacuation of expatriates.
Just sum it up in a few words, the heart of the country simply stopped to beat.
Update II (January 16th)
This report has been written on Friday, 15th of January 2010, 11pm
Since this afternoon things have changed to some extent and we find ourselves here in a new situation. Bit by bit we received more reports and emails from the capital which caused that we realized our own situation differently. Rumours about pillages and looting in Port-au-Prince are now more or less confirmed. International media reported on destroyed prisons and enumerated 5000 inmates who had been freed by the current events. Together with a non measurable amount of people searching desperately for water and food this forms a highly explosive mixture which will spread all over the country. Up to now, resources of all kind have become scarce of unavailable in the capital. This may provoke a considerable exodus from there during the next days. Hinche, where we still stay is located approximately 100 miles away and it is the second major town on the way to northeast (so-called route nationale 3). As we experienced yet a massive influx from affected people at the hospital here (we had a visit this afternoon), it is more than probable that we might face those kind of persons as well. There is a lot of food already in Port-au-Prince, but organizations do not cope with the distribution and this forces people to leave. By the way, even radio stations are suggesting this to the population in the hope of levying the local situation there, and they even started to broadcast requiems between the vocal interventions. A really odd atmosphere…
So what is the consequence for us now? We had been in touch with our country office today. They told us German embassy had called any German citizen in Haiti who is not urgendtly needed in the framework of relief action should better leave the country. As I earlier told, we desperately try to engage ourselves in some senseful action, but it remains very difficult. All attention is concentrated on Port-au-Prince. At first sight this might be intelligent but one could forget that all the other regions around are working as a substitute right now because people flee. We had some discussion with the hospital’s director this afternoon. After that we tried to establish contact to German embassy and several organizations in order to organize medical and structural supply. We could not give them a positive answer up to now, but we hope to get some information about the possibilities of providing aid. That might work through a small airplane coming from the capital or by roads from Dominican Republic. We are hoping for a positive end in that matter since the hospital is getting more and more crowded, lots of operation have to be done urgently, current may last till tomorrow evening and medication is already a huge problem. At the same time we had to see that even the black market for fuel and gasoline, where prizes had risen on a factor of 400% supply ended this evening. There is actually no more gallon of fuel in town. People are still peaceful but one can noticed that everybody is getting nervous about what will happen the next days. Nevertheless we try to make a good job cooperating with the hospital. But this is also the reason why prepare ourselves to evacuation. Depending on how things are developing here and on how instructions may be given from the country office it is possible that we flee at some point of time. A strategic problem is the fact that the frontier is closed on Sunday and we will not leave tomorrow (Saturday). So we are arranging everything to be ready on Monday. From then we will see at which point it will be necessary to go. As I said earlier, up to now everything is rather cool here (what a cynism to use this word in such a context…) but we realize that it is anything but stable and even myself who wanted to go to Port-au-Prince two days ago changed minds. I am getting a bit scared because all that is happening here becomes very difficult to forecast. I will stop at this point and try to provide more information as soon as possible.
Small update (January 17th)
The situation in Hinche/Plateau Central remains unforeseeable. We are now facing more and more people coming from the capital and looking for medical assistance, food, water, shelter and so on. We are in contact with Dominican collaborators and will maybe receive trucks with medical ais by tomorrow, but it has still be organized, how they can arrive here safely. We further try to establish a sort of regional coordination team because till now there was no cooperation between local and international actors or in between them. Now at least they seem to be aware of the huge problems the region will surely be confronted with. At this second we received a message that we had to leave the country, I do not really know what will happen.
It seems that more and more the whole country will be affected by this tremendous disaster. I am a bit missing words. We will continue to work here and maybe there is a way to stay here securely for one or two days more because I think this might be important for the coordination right here in Hinche.
In general I am still worried whether even in the capital rescue measures are beginning to get more coordinated. I heard a lot of bad news from people arriving here. Haitian radion stations report on lots of airplanes which arrived with food, medication etc. but no distribution, or almost no, can happen. People coming from Port-au-Prince also told me that riots and pillages are going on. Who knows if a 10000 US military troop force (from which at the highest 5000 are soldiers!) can cope with a 2 million city which is sunk into total chaos. People from jail, from Cite Soleil, probably armed are bringing insecurity to the city and then to the regions around. There are lots of shootings there as well. I do not want to paint a totally black picture, but I am scared that the situation can get out of control – as MINUSTAH is not really functional and the government remains helpless. I hope that efforts can be concentrated and coordinated and I ask not to forget the regions outside the capital – this is crucial for the whole development!
Alright, we will if the next update is from Haiti or Dominican Republic.
Just in case… (January 17th)
… you think about what to do for the region of Hinche:
This organization is trying to help us:
We have till tuesday morning here. Should leave tomorrow but asked por permission to stay one day more and coordinate everything possible here. Thanks for your support, we will try to do a good job…
Thanks to the German embassies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for their support in particular.
Intermediate summary (January 19th)
This report has been written at 10pm, January 17th 2010.
We are now getting ready to leave. There will not be an evacuation as there is noboby available to evacuate us. I would rather call it an “evocation” as the German embassy and the German Development Service as the institution we are currently working for are calling us to leave the country. First they asked us to leave on Monday morning but considering the current events in Hinche we want to stay for some 24 hours longer and they accepted after receiving our briefing.
Tomorrow the whole day will serve us to push relief action in Hinche. As I said earlier we are awaiting a truck providing medical care and – if they manage – two German doctors from Dominican Republic who had offered their services. I really hope this operation is going to take place since I saw difficult scenes in the local hospital and I was just listening to another call for help issued by the directing physician on one of the regional radio stations. The second task is the reunion of all local and regional actors who are available. This includes the mayor, this regions deputee, some responsible staff from MINUSTAH, other civil servants (like FAES, our collaborator) and representatives from the civil society and all major international organizations here (like us from DED, Caritas, World Vision and others). It was quite difficult to get this meeting arranged and I have to admit that I was disappointed at some time. Until this morning nobody from the Haitian side was really thinking of establishing a coordination and provision of necessary goods for the days and weeks to come. Perhaps this was due to the medial focus on Port-au-Prince or a general scarcity of information as well, but I think this is also a responsibility, especially of the elected representatives of the Haitian people. After today’s meeting in the townhall we saw buses arriving from the capital. Wounded people asking for food and money were coming out to look for shelter and care. Hopefully local authorities recognised at this occasion that the refugee influx is just about to commence and the situation will worsen during the days to come (I am aware of the fact of repeating myself, but this is an issue one has to put emphasis on).
Concerning the developments in Hinche there is not much to say. Fuel and gasoline are still not available with the exception of a small and extremely expensive black market. The food market on Saturday was rather a shadow of what it was like some days before. Even communication remains depending on luck. Internet is only available by satellite and depends on fuel reserves and mobile phones are useless in one of ten cases due to network weaknesses. We estimate that the latter one will improve whereas all other domains may face even heavier supply problems. Another good I would like to mention is that of human security. The fact that we have been asked by our Dominican partner Fundasep if a medical convoi can take the risk of entering Haiti at the frontier of Belladere/Elias Pina and pass by Mirebalais to come to Hinche is significant in this regard. Also regarding our personal security we start getting a bit nervous because incidents of small scale looting have already occurred around Hinche. The deployment of the 10000 people US force is another factor that could endanger people in the provinces because we have been told that all the deliquent guys trolling around there and doing whatever (shootings with the police, looting and pillages) might be scared and flee to pursue their activities elsewhere. Combined with the loads of ‘ordinary people’ this will from a highly explosive mixture approaching the smaller towns outside the metroploitan area. I did not hear of any strategic plan to avoid that risk, neither did I get the informations of an existing coordination of international activities outside the capital. If at least some involved people read this blog I think it is already worth writing so much.
Here I come to another point. What are we really doing here? I came to Haiti for an internship with the German Development Service (DED) in cooperation with the parastatal agency FAES (fonds d’assistance economique et sociale. After my first working week which I devoted basically to get in touch with all the people and get involved in the projects they have, this terrible earthquake occurred. From one day to another my objectives were just eradicated, all colleagues logically went to Port-au-Prince to look for their families (and lots of them have not come back up to this day…). I was paralyzed like the other people from DED working here. In the meantime we got the information that also our organization was affected and one colleague died. One day long we did not really understand what happened and had no real orientation. We went from one small bar to another had beers and talked about what to do. Bit by bit and thanks to internet access and radio we began to realize the facts and kind of reorganized ourselves. Like the others I had not experienced such a tragedy before and even the fact that I worked in some other problematic environment like the Democratic Republic of Congo could not actually help in finding a masterplan. Now things are more concrete again. We gave a crucial help to the beginning local/regional coordination efforts and are hoping that our networking efforts will result in help for the hospital. But still I do not have the impression that I am doing everything I can to help Haitian people. Some days ago I called that a status of luxury prisoners and rethinking it I actually feel this way. I am scared of staying here and thus I will certainly leave Haiti with the others. But I am scared as well, of arriving in Santo Domingo and realizing that I have done so few. It is like a little nightmare of a little guy in a huge nightmare for millions of other people. I do not want to put my person and the circumstances I am facing in a distinct spotlight and I do not either want to derive attention from those who really need it. It is just a try to give an impression how people may feel experiencing such events. A lot of times I thought about going to Port-au-Prince. Given the fact that people there still not cope with the challenges risen in the aftermath of the catastrophy one can assume that any person having some communication or organization abilities may be useful. In the end I took the decision not to do it. According to all the first-hand and media sources I had, danger for a white guy travelling alone is too high. Hopefully there might be a chance to compensate for that, be it in a remote way from Santo Domingo or in a couple of weeks when the situation might have gotten stable.
One month of national reminding has been decreeted and radio stations all broadcast special news mixed with appropriated music. Listening to a sad Creole rap song in the radio I would like to conclude with some bullet points…
- between 50000 and 200000 people probably have died
- around 3 million people are affected by the earthquake
- around 350000 people lost their homes
- the government lost a lot of officials and almost its whole infrastructure
- the UN mission probably lost 400 people including their whole senior staff
- neither police nor other public institutions can fulfil their tasks
- Port-au-Prince, Petionville, Carrefour, Leogane, Jacmel, Petite Goave and a bunch of smaller villages are destroyed
- all kinds of diseases may rise due to countless corpses on the streets
- communication has been down for several days and still does not work properly
- cood, water, electricity, fuel and gasoline supply is not secured all over the country
Concerning the time Haiti will need to recover from this event I rather do not want to give a forecast…
Santo Domingo is quite far (January 25th)
This has been written on 24th of January 2010.
After a long journey we arrived in Santo Domingo last Wednesday. In the end this was certainly the right decision, because we could not really preview what was going to happen in Hinche. By now as far as I am informed things remained calm, but I do not have real informations about the food situation and the hospital.
We are here in a small hotel, actually a nice place with a view to the Caribbean Sea. I wanted to write earlier but in a way it did not really work out. I think I felt somewhat strange the last days. Coming to Haiti and leaving when help is really needed. Though I do not want to contradict myself.
The trip to Dominican Republic began with an UN escort till the frontier. We were quite lucky because due to our commitments in Hinche and the ugly roads we arrived late at the checkpoint where another escort should replace the first one. So it was already gone two hours ago and more or less by conincidence we saw another one driving to the frontier. They did not recognize us although their colleagues had tried to inform them thus we had to chase an UN vehicle. Rather strange feeling, but after 10 minutes we catched up und talked to them, then everything was ok. Arriving at the frontier some problems raised up, because it was night and we could not have our stamps and the necessary papers for the cars anymore. So we had to stay in a hotel and follow up the next day (Wednesday). In the evening we finally arrived in Santo Domingo, quite a European style city and in my view a very sharp contrast to what I had lived the weeks before. We met all colleagues (who had arrived earlier) and had several meetings on the situation. It was at this point only I had the impression of having completed my whole impression of what had happened more than a week before. I hope you may forgive me not telling more about that at this point but I am not really in the mood to do so. This is for a future moment. We spoke about what to do now as well and there were several interesting point, where I could engage myself, too. After a rather embarassing story with a newspaper from Cologne (Koelner Stadtanzeiger) which did not manage to quote me properly there had been some problems about that. Further I was quite disappointed, because I thought this was a serious institution. Now I might work for my colleagues here, in Haiti and Germany concerning press issues. And I promise, if I will, I am going to try to do some things better. By the way, the first one is done: I am not in the country for the moment, thus I am not eating the food of helpers and victims. The second might be do give a more appropriate image of Haitin than most of the huge stations that sent their personnel to give coverage of thrilling issues like pillages and violence. As far as I am informed now, there has not been ONE pillage. Let me draw a definition: I am using the word pillage as an voluntary act to rob material value in an illegal way in order to create a profit, if necessary with violent means. So far… Now to Port-au-Prince: I have been reported from secure sources that all of the so-called pillages of supermarkets and such taken place since the earthquake were designed to get at least some food out of mainly ruined establishments. In German this may be called “Mundraub” (sorry, I get no English synonyme) but it is not what I previously defined as a pillage, because then you would have to define pure survival as creation of profit. I never heard someone say that.
But this shall just be an example and a warning not to rely to much on media.
Tonight I saw again Haiti in the BBC headlines. I was happy because other media it seems already to disappear. But this headline was roughly a sensation story about a person found after 11 days. OK, this is fantastic, but shouldn’t we talk a bit more about the progress in providing aid and the points that are still problematic? Same yesterday, a shooting of three young Haitians.
Unresting agony (January 29th)
After some ten days in Santo Domingo a certain state of mind has emerged. We still do not know which daywe will be allowed to go back to Haiti and even after receiving permission everything will be depending on the situation there. Of course we have to make sure that fuel, water, food and medical care, alongside a generally secure environment allows us to work in a acceptable atmosphere.
After some ten days here we have also had enough time to rethink and reidentify the major events of the last three weeks. I was able to read a lot of stuff and analyze to some extent what has been happening on the international as well as on the insular level in the aftermath of the earthquake. By now already some two billion USD have been spent or at least pledged for Haiti. On the other hand a rather childish struggle was created by some of the major donor countries and troop suppliers. Out of them the US, France and Brazil showed up as the most virulent savers of the Haiti. I am not really sure whether this kind of diplomatic struggle for power has actually helped during the rescue and rehabilitation process in Port-au-Prince and other cities. The UN on its side has mobilized a lot of necessary and hopefully fructuous measures as for example the deployment of further MINUSTAH capacities and a massive action of OCHA, WFP, FAO und Unicef. Though it seems that within these campaign a lot of national interest is driving aid rather than joint worldwide humanitarian action. The US on its side were capable to take control of the capital, including the capital. They establish a curfew and showed a certain severity concerning other “partners” willing to include themselves in the rescue caroussel. France was not the only example.
On the insular level my feeling is a bit different. Being here in the Dominican Republic I realized one of the few really positive consequences of this catastrophy. The Dominicans are well engaged in providing own aid and channelling international supplies via their airports and frontiers. All that happens along to a relative détente of the formerly difficult relations between the two neighbouring states. When aggressive rhetorics escpecially in terms of migration and economic issues have reigned the political and popular discourse for a long time, now a strrong wave of solidarity touched the country andthe general attidude towards Haiti has sharply improved. For sure there are still negative vibrations, like a couple of sectarian Dominican priests inventing apocalyptic phantasms and telling their followers why the Dominican Republic was rescued while the Haitian Voodoo admirers were punished. But that is what we heard from other stupid guys like Pat Robertson in the US…
Besides analyzing the political impact of this earthquake we try to engage ourselves in any other kind of activities. I admit not feeling very productive at the moment but at least we try. It is not easy though. Wednesday for example we were searching for the Haitian children said to be transferred to Santo Domingo due to their physical situation and the need for complicated operations. We spent a whole day looking at every major hospital here but we had no success. Albeit we could gain a rough impression of the medical situation in the Dominican Republic (colleagues of mine have been to other hospitals in Jimani and Dajabon, two frontier cities) and noted the total amount of Haitian patients was not as high as I would have thought. Nevertheless their misery must not be underestimated and there is no means to find out how much other people in need of special medical treatment are stuck on the search for an adequate hospital or in one of the numerous smaller low-equipped clinics in Haiti. I do not have a lot of information about the famous hospital ship of the US, but I really hope its deployment could at least levy the situation in the capital.
Finally then we received some news about Hinche. Our Haitan colleagues there have been impossible to reach for quite a few days and we already began to worry. Now I got a message including an action plan which has been elaborated in order to cope with the probable influx of high numbers of IDPs (internal displaced people, zhich means refugees who do not cross a national border). First I was happy to see, that the comittee there we had helped to establish, finally took action and made a plan for the weeks to come. Reading the document though I had to resignate to some extent. The plans elaborated in the frame of this committee are actually not feasible at this point of time where resources are this concentrated in Port-au-Prince and maybe Jacmel and Leogane. I apologize for not going into detail so much, but just two examples: Of course the roads around Hinche are quite bad, but this cannot be one of the first priorities now and no international donor is willing to spent millions of dollars for that now. Secondly, the identified the need for tents, for water and food. Maybe the proposed figures are adequate but they gave no information about how that food can be distributed, how it can be stored, what food it should be.
You might remember my complaints concerning professionality uttered awhile ago – this is another instance confirming them. I do not want to criticize or pretend I would doing better. It is just – in the spirit of partnership – that we cannot provide them support if we have not elaborated concise and countable fatcs that we might provide to our contacts. In the case of the hospital of Hinche two weeks ago we had to insist for auite a long time to get a real detailed list of what is needed. Some days after the trucks arrived. With some luck this could happen again now, but not without a carefully planned and well calculated basis. Anyway, I hope we will be back soon to improve the cooperation with our friend in Hinche, because the number of IDPs has apparently attained several thousands there…
Preparing the return to Haiti (February 5th)
Yesterday evening we received the confirmation concerning our return to Haiti. It will take place tomorrow, but details have to be clarified again until our action in the next days can be defined.
We find ourselves in a situation where it is tremendously difficult to foresee more than the next step to take. Our information scope on Port-au-Prince and several other areas of the country is quite limited and thus we barely know anything about food, water, transport and medical issues.
At least we have been told to come back with some provision of the most important goods.
In my case it is not yet sure, whether I am supposed to go immediately to Port-au-Prince with some colleagues there or the first journey shall lead me back to Hinche. The striking issue here is that we cannot really analyze the needs at any place in remote way. Probably I could dedicate myself better to some action in the capital. Thus I might go there tomorrow or if not maybe in a couple of days. It is kind of difficult not to know how the next days might be and nevertheless stay ready for any relevant activity and operation area but still there is hope for me to engage myself for some good and important work.
That is what we all tried the last days as well though it has not been actually simple. There was an attempt to carry out some research and collect a broad range of information with the support of my colleagues, but I had to admit that even such a compilation could not give us a general impression since we left Haiti around the 20th of January and from then we had all been very dependent on our personal contacts (and the ability to reach them by mail or phone in Haiti) and the few sources of reliable information (like http://www.reliefweb.int or other…). This did not simplify our task. At least we could push the actions from GTZ helping them to prepare food aid and we hab a tight collaboration with Arche NoVa that provided water treatment plant for the areas of Port-au-Prince and Leogane (one of the most affected cities – over 90% destruction).
So for example I went to buy a car for them. We strolled around in the suburbs of Santo Domingo, a very interesting area consisting of car and car-related small businesses as well as some grocery stores selling the beer for all the guys around there.
After a long search and a lot of negotiations, discussions, test drives and even a small crash (another car catched us brusquely in the back) we finally found a Mitsubishi pick-up that fitted more or less in the expectations and he budgetary limits. We went up to the bureau of the retailer and I rather had the impression to be an a building altogether with a bunch of bizarre people to discuss about a major cocaine deal. Drak rooms, latino men sitting in the edges with their sunglasses, the reailer himself who was military officer, car retailerand lawyer at the same time and some good looking Dominican (or Haitian!?) girls that weared few clothes. Once in a while other guys stepped in either to deliver or to get money, of course several currencies were dealt with…
Nevermind we struck the deal and the water NGO had its car (although, a good one, able to cope with the often non-existing streetsin Haiti) to operate more easily on the other side of the frontier. And, if we would have tried to buy such a vehicle in Haiti, the price would have been multiplied by the factor of 2 or 3. As much to say concerning the emergence of a new quality of aid bussiness there. As soon as we are back there I will try to concentrateon this issue because I consider it as crucial when it comes to the effectiveness and the mechanisms of relief action. For those who regularly read my blog you may remember the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo where serious efforts are meddling with the same phenomenon. Albeit it is a sad one, it is in fact a reality the international community as well as the regional epicentres of action must not ignore.
Now, coming back to concrete issues, as I mentioned earlier the next days will be hard to plan on the theoretic base we have from Santo Domingo. My objective is to keep this site updated especially if I really shall go to the capital and aside from the daily work a principal concern is to contribute to the endangered minority genre of reliable on-the-ground report in order to provide a picture that is different from mass media panic, blood and sensation reports. Hope it will work…
Port-au-Prince (February, 8th)
On our way back from Dominican Republic to Hinche, where I will be analyzing the local and regional situation in the next couple of days, we had a stopover in Port-au-Prince. As there was enough time left to reach the Plateau Central by day we decided spontaneously to have a look at Port-au-Prince, Petionville and Delmas.
We entered the metroplitan area from Croix-de-Bouquet, which is a large suburban area connecting the roads to the North and the East. Yet before we saw a lot of collapsed houses – as it was to expect the destruction rate grew as nearer as we approached the capital. In Croix-de-Bouquet itself there were a lot of houses destroyed as well, but the main streets seemed to be dispatched and ready to use. We saw different smaller markets and a lot of Taptap’s and other cars driving around. Most gas stations were open. Driving further we reached Delmas 45 which led us into the more central urban area. Probably the earthquake did not have much more intensity there, but the infrastructural situation caused a lot more destructions and demolitions. Still we did not notice any signs of unrest or citizen upheaval but life appeared to be calm though we shall not forget that this is one of the main Caribbean metropoles and thus normally a huge potpourri of noise and movement. At the end of Delmas 45 we reached Avenue Delmas, a big vene of traffic passing by the whole municipality of Delmas and linking Port-au-Prince with Petionville. We took the road upwards to Petionville. Now on Avenue Delmas we could realize an impressive amount of fallen houses. Any other exsting infrastructures were sharply affected as well. Although I did not really have a good feeling doing it I took as much pictures as I could from the car. We did not really want to stop because we had to observe the population’s mood before risking anything. More upwards we reached Petionville and noticed that this zone has been stroke gradually and much lesser than where we had come from. We did some loops in Petionville and saw a lot of people on the streets. Though Sunday there were lots of markets and lots of noise as well. Some look on the goods proved that many stuff must have been brought from Dominican Republic to the capital. Besides some definitely new clothes stocks we did not see much items we could consider derived from official aid provisions. Thus far, we went to our central bureau which survived the seisms. Next to it at the Primature where the Prime Minister’s office used to be, we saw the first bigger refugee camp. I use the term refugee as it might be a commonly understood one, though throughout this report I am logically talking about internally displaced people, so-called IDP’s. There was no visible authority in the camp (we would see a lot of that type later as well) meaning that it mainly consisted of self-made tents and shelters and it probably lacked of sufficient water and food supply. We did not see a medical tent either. Later we took another road to reorientate ourselves down the way to Port-au-Prince and Delmas. We passed the Western side of Petionville which is in juxtaposition to a lot of so-called “bidonvilles” the way the slums are called in Haiti. As it was the second time I visited the city I had no real comparison to what it looked like before the catastrophy but I was told that everywhere I saw bleak slopes there were hundreds of habitats next to each other. Now they seems to be hidden in a huge bunch of ruins down the valley. One can imagine that no real work has been done down there (as other zones have been prioritized) and hence, how much more corpses may be hidden under the rocks and stones. We went further down and took some roads in downtown Petionville next to Delmas and Port-au-Prince. Here we realized a very mixed picture. There were blocks, completely destroyed and other which miraculously showed no major demolition signs. On the other hand one must not forget that there are thousands of houses fallen, but a certainly similar amount (or an even higher one) of habitats which will not be usable any more. We saw houses which once had some 5 or 6 levels, now bawled out to just on level without being cleared yet. Same applies for those what I mentioned for the bidonvilles. Our last loop took us to the city centre at Port-au-Prince where the frequently-filmed Presidential Palace is located next to the Champ de Mars, previously one of the cultural and social centres of Haiti. Next to the most visible sign of national Haitian immobility and disability to cope with the disaster we looked at the country’s most visible sign of misery. Where earlier Haitian craftmen and -women sold their artisanal work and theatre groups presented their shows, an incredible crowd of men, women and children took their places in the shelters. The smell was pretty ugly, a mixture of dead bodies, excrements, smoke and other odours I could not define. After that we took the road to the airport from where we left the metropolitan area to drive to Hinche. We again passed several dozens of more or less well organized “camps de fortunes” of the countless homeless. I felt touched by all the sad things I saw. But my curiousity as well has been satisfied in terms of seeing in reality what media is telling us since a couple of weeks.
My impression is twofold. Of course there are thousands of people suffering and the demolition is inimaginable. But there are other issues that are forgotten. There is yet again a certain social and street life in Haiti. I saw a man who put lots of Haitian flags on his bike. Then he drove through the city shouting out his wishes of hope for the fellows he passed by. There are markets, there are points of water distribution and in some camps food distribution proved to work in a very coordinated manner. If aid continues and the Haitian people are empowered and enabled to take up their own destiny and future, it might work out and the country might be able to cope with the recent events. But there are some question marks definitely of major concern and linked to the capital’s situation and condition.
The reconstruction of Haiti and its further prospects of development will depend on its ability to decentralize power, education, economy and culture. And concretely in the case of Port-au-Prince, after having seen the amount of destruction there, I really wonder if it will be possible to reconstruct it where it used to be located…
‘Delivering as One!?’ (February 17th)
This paradigm is basically used in New York when it comes to the efficiency and cooperation in between different UN bodies (For all Germans: We have a similar notion concerning the splintering of our development agencies, called ‘Entwicklungszusammenarbeit aus einem Guss’). I opted for chosing it as an headline, not to point on the local UN staff, but to characterize one of the main difficulties that hamper a fully sucessful coordination and delivery of humanitarian aid and relief measures here in Hinche.
It has taken some 10 days now since we returned to Haiti. Back in Hinche we tried to take up the challenge of participating in the ongoing processes to deliver aid to about 92000 internal displaced persons (IDPs) who came to the Centre Province of Haiti. Some 20000 of them are concentrated in Hinche, the main city of this department and the place I am working. At this stage several measures of relief have commenced but we face huge problems of coordination and communication, all of them endangering a well conceived approach to help the refugees. I would like to try a small summary listing our constraints.
The first one is, I am basically alone. One of my German colleagues with whom I had given the first knock to form at least a committee including al local and international actors, has had to leave the country for some weeks. My other colleague is implicated in the work of FAES which for the moment is not active in immediate measures. I have been assigned the task to follow the local committees efforts and provide them with everything they are not able to cope with themselves, meaning communication with external actors, provision of information and such. A rather easy task in normal times, but still we experience difficulties in accessing internet regularly and the mobile net has not fully recovered from earthquake damages yet.
In the first days after our return I tried to analyse everything that had happened during our absence. Rapidly I had to state there was not much to analyse, as to the agony that eventually emerged in this period. Some action had been carried out, like the establishment of a few smaller refugee camps around Hinche, but no further action or organization had been taken or done. Even less encouraging was the fact that the committee had split up, several local groups had begun their own small businesses, trying to get international aid and similar. So how to start any coordinated action?
The committee itself, or those who still formed it actively, had at least begun to do a census of all the IDPs. This seemed to be a Sisyphos’ task since only about 1000 people were located in the camps, whereas all the rest had divised themselves into hundreds of local families. There are certainly good reasons for their splintering, because if people have the choice to go to family of friends they prefer this option than to go to an anonymous camp. But given you have to do a census of all the those persons, imagine the difficulties you face collecting informations by going from one house to another. At this stage with the help of youth organizations, we finished this census at approximately 80%. The current facts include some 3400 families with 18000 members. That number leads us to an estimation of round about 20000 or 22000 IDPs – just in the city of Hinche which normally consists of 40000 inhabitants.
Let us come to another major constraints: The committee itself. There are some 5 people left who are really willing to work, but they extremely lack of funding. I do not mean any salary for them, they are engaging themselves for God’s sake and voluntarily, but they need paper, pens, bureau accessoires, fuel and telephone cards, not to talk about food for them and the youths carrying out the census (they actually do a great work, striving throughout the town and collecting information from every house, unfortunately the error rate might still come to about 5%). Officially the mayor is the president of this committee. Although we knew before that he is quite a difficult person we had no other choice than charmingly propose him this job. Any other decision would have driven the work of the committee senseless because as the first authority of this city in a state which has practically stopped to exist, he is the most important authority. But he turned out to prefer doing his own business, like many of the local actors. We face huge difficulties in communicating with him since he does not want to share information with us. Nevertheless we do, because we cannot take the risk of him getting upset about the committee’s work – again a political issue. Hence we try to do our work without him and get as much information on his actions be observing. You need a small example? Well, yesterday people saw him in a meeting with some French guys. Allegedly they proposed aid, they discusses this, drank beer and had some agreement. I was wondering how this would proceed because the mayor himself does not really cooperate with the other actors. The way he behaves towards us – even if of course always very friendly – makes me scared of him using his position for self-enrichment. But this is just an assumption so far.
On the other hand there is World Vision, a well-known US development NGO, famous for intense engagement in any poor country worldwide but famous as well for their affiliation to US evangelical churches. Their HIV/AIDS policies have been criticized for long time, for example. Here in Hinche nevertheless we were happy to have them with us – they were the only organization having a stock full of food. Since we have not been able to organize some German food trucks coming from Santo Domingo (for two reasons: First they all went to Leogane where the need is basically higher, secondly the committee did not provide us a list with their specific needs) and the people here in Hinche did not manage to send a formally correct request to OCHA (the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, coordinating the work of all the “clusters” that have been established. For more detailed information, have a look at http://www.haiti.oneresponse.info ).
I do not want to go into detail or open up any discussion on the efficiency of the system actually mis-en-place. Certainly I have doubts, basically because I am concentrating on such issues in my own studies, but if you have an emergency situation it is not the time to put the current architecture into question – it is rather the moment to act within the given frame and to do so in the best possible way. Maybe you can imagine how often I had to say this the last couple of days… Back to World Vision, due to the pressure of this large amount of hungry IDPs, they started fod distributions last week, based on the non-finished census of our committee. Unfortunately the coordination here was not very good either. We furnished a lot of structural help and information to World Vision and I am sure they are trying to do a good job as well. The only thing is, they do not manage to provide us with informations as well. Some day we had to run after them to be at the distribution point, check the situation and call for security assistance. Why? They did not do it themselves and at the same time they expect us, me and the committee to do this job, but without telling us the details. It is actually really weird and some things I do not even understand. Well, there may be some problems in communication starting activities and there may be some claims of responsibility (as there always are in development and humanitarian aid – people want their flag on the packs of rice they distribute) but a coordination failure to such an extent is definitely difficult to fit into any logic, especially if one side is trying to avoid this.
Talking about other actors, there are some more Haitian or Haiti-based organizations and communities working in the humanitarian sector. They include for example private and religious actors who established to smaller camps I mentioned before, or the local Caritas. Unfortunately their wil to engage in collaborations is not very existent up to this moment. Then there is FAES, the governmental development agency I was supposed to do my internship initially, but they are struggling with own problems at their central bureau in Port-au-Prince and some other regional bureaus which had been more affected by the cataclism and further they prefer to elaborate medium- and long-term activities. At least they communicate accurately with the other actors (even if that may be just due my position between them and the committee.
The last ones in the game are the UN mission “MINUSTAH” and a team of 6 American Gis deployed to Hinche since last week. From the Haitian side there is a lot of scepticism towards those actors. To some extent I fully understand this – the US as a force which occupied the country for some 20 years in the past century and supported several dictators then in the second half of the past century – and the MINUSTAH as the second largest UN peacekeeping mission (after MONUC in the DR Congo. By the way, I was yet wondering if there is a reason why I am always finding myself working in such countries…) not really having achieved a lot in terms of development since the starting point of their mandate in 2004.
On the other side those are the only ones which can provide effective security since the Police Nationale d’Haiti is not even a shadow of a strong police force – neither in terms of numbers nor in terms of professionality. The scepticism they face though is the reason why local actors try to leave them aside in the process of relief provision and coordination. So, now, in any distribution which has taken place till now, the Haitian police was desperately overcharged and not able to provide the frame for a secure action.
It was the committee and me who at the end of the day had to call the American troops and the UN telling them we needed their help. A question of pride or rather a lack of professionality of other actors!? I do not know… But it was me and the committee who were blamed (altogether with the UN and the US) when we did not guess that their support was necessary. You might say we can guess it, but there was this other issue I mentioned: The guys did not even inform us, when, where and how they do their distributions. Certainly in Port-au-Prince the situation is much more complicated but yet here I do not have the impression to carry out an esay job. We are concentrating our efforts now in having a lot of meetings to finally convince all involved actors that they have to communicate and that tasks have to be assigned clearly within the national and expatriate relief community.
A main problem is that the food reserves we still have here are not sufficient to feed everybody more than some weeks. And now instead of concentrating in requesting further aid from Port-au-Prince where everything is concentrated in stocks and – although the need there is much higher than here – goods are waiting for their transfer to remote areas that need help, like Hinche, we are stuck in this dilemma. Still I hope we will be able to establish a kind of working routine in order to set free some capacities and time to dedicate ourselves to a future planning. If in the worst case, this will not be possible we face serious threats of insecurity and riots which we could avoid up to now. There are some signs that things could develop positively, for example we might get several visits from cluster responsables based in the capital who want to assess the situation here, but the crucial issue remains the work of all concerned local and locally based actors.
Slow progress and new challenges (February 25th)
For the last ten days things in Hinche have not so much changed. Some time I had the impression that communication and coordination would improve after we had invested so much energy in exactly that domain. But this was maybe a superficial assessment and it did not really last.
Even worse, we have some serious doubts that even the local comittee we created shortly after January, 12th, has some members we cannot really rely on. But that is merely speculation and I do not want to point too much on this.
There are other, less covert issues that went wrong in all thes aid actions driven in our region. Just as a reminder, we have some over 20000 IDPs in our town, Hinche, and some 100000 in the province around. These are more or less the official numbers released by UN-OCHA, Reliefweb and other thrustworthy sources, but they were from February, 15th. Now new statistics have proven, the total IDP number in Haiti has risen from 511000 to 600000 (if I am not wrong, 22nd of February…) – you may imagine that some of those 89000 have reached our region, as it has been the second-most affected province in terms of population increase after the earthquake. Further there have been some major seismical replicas on the last two days (two of them reached a 4.7 on the Richter scale) certainly causing even more people to leave Port-au-Prince in this moment. As far as I know the social and psychologocal situation there is getting worse every day. We observe similar development right here but I assume in the capital this issue is again a more vital one.
So, what implications may that have on our work? Actually we are already facing a lot of technico-physical constraints in daily affairs. Not that I need some compassion or similar, but I would like to state the point that with current cuts and extremely slow internet connections, constraints in materials and transportation and a communication environment which is quite feable you cannot deliver 100% planned, structured and executed efforts. This hampers both the committee’s (which we are assisting) and our own work.
The additional challenges are for example in a situation in which we just try to organize and establish a secure, fair and feasible distribution scheme – altogether with World Vision, the town hall of Hinche, some US Army guys and the UN Mission (MINUSTAH) – we face a further influx of IDPs in our zone. Of course, this could have been foreseen, and we even did so, but nevertheless the organizational problems and needs resulting therefrom are unchanged. They have to be tackled in a certain way that the highest possible number of those people can be served and fed. Right now we have not found an answer to this twofold issue which is in the frame of our abilities.
Yet without taking into account these new challenges we are struggling to get our food distributions done without greater problems. It starts and ends with the security issue. That one emerged to be the crucial one determining all other parameters. The standard operating procedure is as follows: A local authority (i.e. the mayor and the local comittee) call for the Haitian police to provide security. Reasons of sovereignty which are basically right provide them from giving a direct call to MINUSTAH or UN Police. If the Haitian police (PNH) does not feel capable to cope with the circumstances they are the ones that can inform a UN body in order to get support. So far the theory…
In practice we faced several times the situation that either PNH did not come at all (and thus MINUSTAH neither) i.e. due to fuel scarcity (!) or they came with just 2 guys to control a mass of maybe 500-800 people. It occurred that we went with our cars to fetch them at the stations – not because we thought we needed them – just to have the chance that UN forces will join the distribution as well (you remember the SOPs…).
So at the end of the day (sometimes it was literally that – making the distribution situation not easier) we generally had the two or three PNH guys and some 10 MINUSTAH troops. The latter actually did a great job (Just to counter some critiques rising frequently about UN missions and the fact that I joined such critiques at several occasions, so I take the opportunity to say the opposite in this case as I had the chance to observe it quite well. Same applies to the American soldiers at other occasions) while the national policemen sometimes – I quote – “did not want to wet their uniforms”. This was during a distribution accompanied by a heavy tropical rainfall. The distribution had only started when MINUSTAH showed up and began to organize the queuing of the IDPs. This point I demanded PNH to assist the blue helmets, but they preferred to stay under a “safe” tree. This just as a notion describing the mental situation of this country and its official bodies. A really sad example…
So I went to help the UN soldiers. Not that I could do a lot, but at least identifying pregnant women, old people and small children who were at risk to be hurt within the nervous crowd of people.
There are a few more issues fitting in this category I chose to call slow progress and new challenges but due to time and other obligations I prefer to stop at this point.
Basically, the last days did not change from things previously written. The only difference was that the stagnating situation meant a felt deterioration for the affected people and I felt more and more fatigue working all the time without having weekends and so on (probably I was not the only one that had such a schedule…). I am deeply grateful for having been there in this time and learned so much about how to tackle extremely demanding challenges together, although it was the most bitter moment in history for this proud nation of Haiti. I deeply express my condolences to the Haitian people, hoping that my presence during the events was rather relief than burden.