One month after the earthquake

Water, but not blessed 
• The arrival of the rainy season has further complicated the chaotic situation in Port-au-Prince • Help would seem to be planned, but the Haitian people don’t know about it 
 
Leticia Martínez Hernández

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, February 18, 2010 — Sous Shilove doesn’t know that the French president was in the city, much less that he promised $326 million in aid, along with 1,000 tents and 16,000 canvas tarpaulins for the start of the rainy season. The young Haitian, who is the oldest son and therefore responsible for his large family, only knows that the rains have begun, and they will make things worse in the chaotic Champ de Mars, the plaza where he and thousands of others have been living in miserable conditions for more than a month.

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Cuban doctors treat sick 
 people in the plazas. 
 Respiratory infections abound. 
 
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Children are the most vulnerable. 
 

Since January 13th, Sous Shilove and his family have been sleeping underneath a few boards and old tarps in a space no larger than two square meters. Their bodies “rest” on the ground every night, but early yesterday morning, they couldn’t even do that. An intermittent rainstorm that began at 2 a.m. and lasted almost three hours kept them awake and frightened. In the morning, their few belongings were drying in the sun.

The young man explains that it has become very difficult to find materials among the rubble to make a strong roof, because many of the buildings that collapsed in the quake are now under state control. Moreover, his home was plundered after the tragedy, and the family was unable to save anything. Sous told this reporter he did not know what the government’s plans were for helping people to confront the coming rains; he doesn’t have access to radio or TV. “People talk a lot, but we can’t confirm anything,” he commented.

Maurais Philippe is extremely busy hammering a piece of zinc that will soon be the “roof” of his “home.” He is surrounded by old mattresses, pillows and several changes of clothing hanging wet on nearby trees. “Last night was terrible for us. We couldn’t sleep; we stayed awake to make sure the water didn’t come in.” Has the family received any help? “Once they brought us a little bit of rice, but that’s not the main thing right now; we are living here with children, and we have no way to protect them from the rain. I found that roof in the trash.”

At least Philippe’s family has him to confront these infernal days to come. But Siné Vinette is not so fortunate. The mother of two children, she stood in front of the four wet sheets that are now her home, waiting for who-knows-what. “I have nowhere else to go,” said the woman, exhausted by the same misfortune that is darkening the days of 700,000-plus Haitians who were left homeless by the quake.

And while work seemed to be speeding up yesterday in the plazas surrounding the National Palace, with the installation of bathrooms and the clean-up of sewers, uncertainty continued to prevail among the people.

The tragedy doesn’t end here. In addition to the devastating quake that killed more than 200,000 people and injured 300,000 within one minute, now there are the torrential rains, which even in normal times bring misfortune. The reasons: deforestation, poor urban planning, an excess of garbage left almost anyplace and especially in the drains of Port-au-Prince…in short, extreme and painful poverty.

It has been raining for two days in this capital, where thousands of people are crowded into spaces exposed to the elements, and diseases are beginning to spread which could turn into epidemics. According to Luisa Verónica, a Dominican doctor who graduated from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), and who is on one of the two medical teams working in Dessalines Park, people are seeking treatment for respiratory infections, many of them asthmatics whose condition has been aggravated by the humidity of their shelters. Diarrhea and urinary infections also abound, she said.

Dr. Yelayne Morell, who is heading the epidemiological team that began treating people yesterday in that plaza — one of the most crowded places following the Jan. 12 quake — said that the rains bring an increase in vectors, especially mosquitoes, as well as the possibilities of contracting dengue fever and malaria. Health conditions will become worse, she said.

As the threat of rain continues threatening to fall, and almost always does fall, the debate continues on how and where to build camps to shelter thousands of people; whether it would be more effective (or cheaper) to have tents or metallic roofs; whom to ask for more aid; how to convince people that this is not a temporary issue. And for now, Sous Shilove still does not know what will become of him and his family, when the water, not at all blessed, continues to come through the gaps in his “home.”

Translated by Granma International  
 

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