Many are still looking for food and shelter a year after the earthquake in Haiti
LES CAYES, Haiti
The cinder block house with a tin roof that Erline Castel and Dieunord Ernest rented was among more than 130,000 homes damaged or destroyed by a powerful earthquake that hit southern Haiti last year, killing more of 2,200 people.
In the days following the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, they gathered sheets, tarpaulins and wood and built a shelter for themselves and their three children. More than a year after the August 14, 2021 earthquake, the family are still living in the same makeshift tent like hundreds of others, and still wondering if anyone will help them.
If recent history is any guide, few people will.
The Associated Press has visited several camps around the southern coastal town of Les Cayes, which was one of the hardest hit areas, and people have repeatedly complained that no government officials have visited them. despite repeated promises that they would come to help.
While the family waited for help, Ernest died of prostate cancer last year. So today, Castel is alone, fighting for her family’s survival like many others struggling to restart their lives after the earthquake.
On Thursday morning, she tried to breastfeed her 9-month-old daughter. But after a year of surviving on scraps in a makeshift camp, Castel was out of milk. The little girl, Wood Branan Ernest, fell asleep during her failed attempt.
“I have nothing to offer them,” said Castel.
Worse still, others are victimizing earthquake victims.
In a camp, friends of the owner try to take back the land where the refugees have settled. Thugs have demolished shacks, thrown rocks at families and attempted to set fire to the camp twice in recent months.
The camp, like several others, also floods quickly when it rains, forcing hundreds of people to flee to higher ground as they watch their belongings get soaked.
“I don’t know how long I can go on like this,” said Renel Cene, a 65-year-old man who lost four children in the earthquake and who once worked in nearby fields of vetiver, a plant whose roots produce an oil used in fine perfumes.
Families walk to fetch water from the well, sometimes allowing sediment to settle before drinking it. Many do not have jobs. They rely on neighbors for their only meal of the day.
Those living in the camps say they have heard on the radio that local government officials have met with international leaders about the post-earthquake situation, but wonder if they will ever be helped.
“So far, everything has been promises,” said 55-year-old farmer Nicolas Wilbert Ernest. “I don’t know how long I have to wait.”
On the anniversary of the earthquake, a group of government officials held a press conference outlining the progress of the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who began leading the country shortly after the assassination of the President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021.
The government says it has planted 400 tons of beans, cleaned 10,000 meters of canals, distributed 22,000 bags of fertilizer and donated more than 300,000 baskets full of basic necessities. He provided $100 each to vulnerable people in tens of thousands of homes across the south. The state also opened a temporary bridge over the Grande-Anse River in early August.
But UNICEF warned last week that more than 250,000 children still do not have access to adequate schools and that the majority of the 1,250 destroyed or damaged schools have not been rebuilt. He noted that a lack of funds and a spike in violence have delayed reconstruction.
Increasingly powerful gangs have taken control of the main road leading from the capital Port-au-Prince to the southern region of Haiti, disrupting efforts to deliver food, water and other basic goods to people in need.
Many organizations have been forced to pay bribes to prevent their staff from being kidnapped while driving south.
Cindy Cox-Roman, CEO of HelpAGE USA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said there was “a great feeling from people there that they’re on their own in this.” .
Cassendy Charles, emergency program manager for the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Mercy Corps, estimates it could take five years for the region to fully recover from the earthquake. The organization has been forced to use boats and planes to ferry supplies south, but even that is complicated as the port is located near the Cité Soleil slum, where more than 200 people were reportedly killed recently as rival gangs were arguing. territory.
“The situation is unstable,” he said.
Meanwhile, double-digit inflation has deepened poverty. Marie Dadie Durvergus, a kindergarten teacher who lives with her two children in a camp, said a bag of rice that cost 750 gourdes ($6) last year now costs 4,000 gourdes ($31).
Berline Laguerre, a former street vendor who once sold used clothes, said the money she saved to buy more clothes was used to feed her children. There was nothing left to send them to school or buy them uniforms or books.
“And the kids ask me, ‘Mom, when am I going back to school?’ My friends say: ‘And me?’ “, did she say.
On a recent morning, Laguerre was queuing with others outside tent #8, where Bauzile Yvenue was making sweet coffee for neighbors in need, a system that has become key to survival.
“I can’t do this every morning, but on the days that I do it feels good to be able to share a coffee with my neighbours,” the 48-year-old mother of two said.
But a moment later she said she feared her 14-year-old daughter was being raped at the camp. Rape was a common occurrence in similar camps that proliferated after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 Haitians.
Jocelin Juste became the informal manager of Camp Devirel after the last major earthquake. He and other self-proclaimed leaders wrote dozens of handwritten letters and visited local nonprofits in an attempt to get the attention of government officials.
“We are doing everything we can to survive,” he said.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.