Haiti: A Glimmer of Hope amid the Ruins
The city of Port-au-Prince has always been a magnet for Haitians seeking a better life. So when a massive 7.0 earthquake struck the country on January 12–the quake’s epicenter was only 10 miles from the capital—it affected one third of the country’s population.
Widespread destruction has rendered this overpopulated and under-serviced city even more so. So many buildings have been destroyed or made uninhabitable and so many services disrupted that the offices and ministries that would normally coordinate rescue and rebuilding operations and other government functions have vanished.
Finding themselves homeless in a city that is part ghost town and part displaced-persons camp, many residents are returning to their home villages in rural areas, which were not as heavily damaged as the capital or were spared entirely.
Some get there by taking the local “tap-taps”—collective taxis that pile a dozen passengers into the back of a covered pick-up. Others ride in trucks and buses provided for free by the Haitian government and local nongovernmental organizations.
Outside the St. Louis Gonzague Catholic school, which has been turned into a makeshift homeless persons’ camp, three trucks are taking on their last passengers. One is going to Jeremie, on the southwestern tip of Hispaniola, the island that Haiti shares with Dominican Republic. Another is heading to Gonaives, a port city north of the capital, while the third is destined for Cap Haitien on the north coast, Haiti’s second largest city.
Eric le Guen, the safety and security adviser of the IRC emergency response team in Haiti, said that the destruction of Port-au-Prince is so complete that even buildings that look unscathed may have structural damage and will have to be torn down.
Some Haitians see a glimmer of hope in the aid that is now pouring into the country and that has given Haiti world attention. Immediate tasks such as water distribution and the repatriation of people who are planning to go back the countryside have been carried out in a surprisingly orderly way. By the end of this week, local aid and nongovernmental organizations will have finished their initial assessment of losses and needs and will be better able to determine how they can utilize international aid organizations for long-term reconstruction and development projects.
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