Survivors of the Haitian earthquake need quick solutions that may not come in time for the punishing rainy season that starts in May. They now face the looming threat of disease, misery in makeshift tent camps and a lack of adequate food and water.
Despite all the pledges of rebuilding, there are some basic realities: poor people will suffer and some will die.
Reports from the field show that relief agencies are pushing to make things better, with a deadline from the weather that is almost impossible to meet. Partners in Health, one prominent relief organization, reports that it has to shift priorities “to long-term care and helping the hundreds of thousands of people who urgently need shelter, water, sanitation, and food.
We hear the same concerns from journalists and from relief organizations all around Haiti. The Miami Herald reported on Feb. 24:
The stench of human waste permeates the air around the crude shelters made of sticks and sheets…There are nowhere near enough toilets — portables, latrines or any other kind — for the tens of thousands living in the camps in and around Port-au-Prince.
The squalid conditions have government and relief workers worried about a potential outbreak of deadly diseases, such as diarrhea, spread by unsanitary conditions. And relief agencies scrambling to install toilets are still figuring out how to later dispose of their waste.
Sad to say, but as many people have noted all along, Haiti cannot be handled simply by relief and rescue through normal means. Haiti needs international concerted crisis management –- and Haitians must be empowered to choose the leaders who will allow real, humane, no-nonsense, incorruptible change. Is that happening?
Partners in Health reported this: “With cities destroyed and major roadways and ports obstructed or damaged, food is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. The price of staples, like rice, oil, and beans, has risen dramatically. ‘Prices have skyrocketed – doubling and in some cases tripling,’ says Jesula Pierre, a PIH logistics coordinator currently working in Haiti’s Central Plateau.”
With its Haitian partner, the organization is pushing to plant fallow farmland and ratchet up farm yields. But each organization operating in Haiti can only do a small part to save as many people as possible.
It’s not enough. The list of problems goes on.
This is also from the Miami Herald:
Relief workers blame the shortage of toilets in part on having to deal with more urgent problems — like keeping people alive — immediately after the Jan. 12 earthquake…
But now, more than five weeks after the quake, the dangers of inadequate sanitation could amount to the most pressing public health issue.
At best, many Haitians had neither clean water or sanitation before the earthquake. They deserved help even before the earth shook.
Much more suffering is likely when the rains fall.