Tensions rise in Haiti amid delays in delivering aid to survivors of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the impoverished nation on August 14 and left at least 2,189 people dead. Angry crowds protest and demand assistance five days after being left out in the open. The situation is exacerbated by the hospital collapse and when an unknown number of more bodies remain under the rubble.
Protests, angry crowds, food and water shortages, added to a hospital collapse. That is the panorama on the streets of Haiti. Desperation seizes thousands of survivors of last Saturday’s deadly earthquake and from which the population had not yet recovered when earlier this week it was hit by tropical storm Grace, today a hurricane.
Hunger and the urgent need for aid led dozens of people to gather at the small airport in the district of Los Cayos, in the south of the country and one of the worst hit areas, before the arrival of a helicopter with food boxes. Many expressed anger that government aid was only beginning to arrive days after the disaster.
A small squad of police deployed to monitor the deliveries fired two warning shots to disperse the crowd, witnesses told the US agency AP.
Meanwhile, other groups of inhabitants concentrated on the collapsed buildings from where they demanded tarps for temporary shelters. There, aid workers have also warned of the risks of waterborne diseases such as cholera.
One of the first food deliveries to arrive from local authorities was a couple dozen boxes of rice and pre-measured and pre-packed meal kits. This support reached an area of makeshift tents installed in one of the poorest areas of Los Cayos, where most of the tin-roofed houses were destroyed by the earthquake.
Gerda Francoise, 24, was one of dozens who crowded into the sweltering heat, albeit hoping for food. “I don’t know what I’m going to get, but I need something to take to my store. I have a son,” he said.
But clearly the shipment was in short supply for the hundreds of survivors who have been under tents for about a week. “It is not enough, but we will do our best to make sure everyone gets at least something,” said Vladimir Martino, a resident of the camp who took over the distribution.
Food has gradually arrived for thousands of people who were left homeless. However, distributing them under current conditions is a challenge, authorities acknowledge.
“We are planning a meeting to start cleaning up all the sites that were destroyed because that will give the owner of that site at least the opportunity to build something temporary, made of wood, to live there (…) It will be easier to distribute the aid if they are people live at their addresses, instead of in a tent, “said Serge Chery, Head of Civil Defense for the Southern Province, which covers Los Cayos.
Faced with this situation, Prime Minister Ariel Henry warned that the nation faces “painful times ahead” and that the country “is physically and mentally destroyed.”
The official also assured that his Administration will work not to “repeat the story about the mismanagement and coordination of aid”, a clear reference to the chaos that followed the devastating earthquake of 2010, when the Government was accused of not sending all the money. , raised by international donors, to people in need.
More dead under rubble and a collapsed hospital system
In the most recent registry, the Haitian Civil Protection Agency reported that the death toll rose to 2,189, after a previous count indicated 1,941 deaths. Another 12,268 people were injured.
But residents say that the stench that emanates from under the columns of rubble accounts for dozens more dead who have not yet been able to reach and remove from the ruins.
On Monday, hundreds more protested to demand help in excavating collapsed buildings to find possible survivors. However, this type of assistance has also been slow to come from the capital.
While some officials have suggested that the search phase must end and that it is time to use heavy machinery to clean up the remains, the prime minister did not seem ready to move on to that phase yet.
“Some of our citizens are still under the rubble. We have teams of foreigners and Haitians working on that ”, he indicated.
Added to these difficulties is the lack of places to care for the wounded. “All the hospitals are destroyed and collapsed, the operating rooms are down, and then if tents are brought in, it’s hurricane season and they can collapse right away,” said Barth Green, president and co-founder of Project Medishare, an organization that has worked on Haiti since 1994 to assist in health services.
International aid workers on the ground confirm that hospitals in the worst affected areas are mostly unable to care for patients and that there is an urgent need for medical equipment. However, they note, the government informed at least one foreign organization that has been operating in the country for nearly three decades that it did not need the help of hundreds of its volunteer doctors.
Haiti, the poorest country in America, was still recovering from the disastrous 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and this new catastrophe occurred just weeks after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, plunging the country of 11 million people. moreover, in a political upheaval.
With Reuters, AP and AFP