After the deluge in Haiti, residents turn to each other
Published on Friday, October 19, 2007
By Wadner Pierre
GONAIVES, Haiti: Cars crossing Gonaives Avenue shoot plumes of murky water. Men on motorcycles stick to the shoulder of the road, dodging large puddles. As the flooding in this coastal city begins to slowly recede, residents are starting to assess the measure of destruction.
Scattered thunderstorms are still drenching Haiti, which remains on "yellow alert", with persistent threats of overflowing rivers, floods and landslides -- always a danger in a country that has lost 90 percent of its forest cover.
Haitians of all classes dread hurricane season. A week of hard rain in areas like Les Cayes, a seaport in the southwest, means residents must trudge through feet of water. And many feel abandoned to the mercy of the elements.
A public transport vehicle sloshes through massive puddles on Gonaives Avenue. Photo by Wadner Pierre
Residents of this city, the capital of the department of Artibonite, which was especially hard-hit, say that local forecasting committees should be formed to help communities avoid the worst.
For more than a week, people in Les Cayes, Hinche, Port-De-Paix, Gonaives, Nippes and Grand'Anse have reported that the roads are impassible, or nearly so, due to the floods.
The rains began in earnest late last month. And since the first week of October, Gonaives, a city of about 100,000 people, has been literally underwater.
The horror of Hurricane Jeanne is still alive in the memories of its residents. That monster storm in 2004 left some 3,000 people dead -- 2,000 in Gonaives alone.
The Haitian government has released funds to send food and beds to the stricken areas, and the United Nations has also offered to help. However, residents here appear to be highly skeptical of the involvement in Haiti.
An elderly man named Rogest lashed out at Haiti's political class, and recalled that after Jeanne inundated Gonaives, many of the dead remained unburied for days and relief was slow to be distributed.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 700 homes have been completely destroyed and more than 4,000 seriously damaged, "leaving around 4,000 families in distress and 3,000 persons living in temporary shelters." Areas in southern Haiti were also devastated, according to radio reports.
There have been 37 confirmed deaths, but some press reports indicate that up to 50 people may have perished in the flooding. A mounting number of climatologists believe that global warming, caused in large part by the industrialized north, has increased the intensity and frequency of bad weather during the Caribbean's storm season from June 1 to November 30.
This is a particular problem for Haiti because much of the country's topsoil is precarious and exposed due to the clear-cutting of forests to make charcoal for cooking and heating water. More than 70 percent of the energy usage in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is derived from wood and other biomass.
Secretary-General Paul Loulou Chéry of the Confédération des Travailleurs Haitiens (CTH), a national trade union confederation, says the situation is desperate. He has heard from numerous people living in the flooded areas who have faced severe weather for weeks.
Chery said the CTH is trying to provide support to the many trade unionists living in the affected departments, but has few resources to do so. He explained that rising costs of living for the poor exacerbate the crisis.
"The people of all these departments need solidarity at once," Chery said.
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