Historic Park in Haiti’s Capital Overflows with Quake Survivors
There is surely no more symbolic site in Haiti than Champs de Mars, Port-au-Prince's main park and place of political power. On the park’s west side sits the now ruined Presidential Palace. To the north is the Dessalines barracks—which has been reduced to a façade—named after Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader of the Haitian independence movement. Looming over the park is an unfinished tower built to mark the bicentennial of the founding of the free Republic of Haiti but never completed because of political turmoil.
How tragic then that this square has now become a symbol of the grief and pain afflicting the Haitian people. Nearly two weeks after a massive earthquake struck this city the several thousand homeless people living in the park are still receiving almost no aid except water.
Conditions in the park are squalid: There is little privacy—unless a sheet draped on four sticks can be called private. Most families cook over small fires amid rows of towels or plastic used as screens. When people want to wash they strip off their clothes and soap themselves with water from a bucket—under the circumstances inhibitions about nudity drop away. When they need a toilet they walk to the edge of the park.
“There are no medical facilities at Champs de Mars for pregnant women, no post-natal care, and no care for newborns,” said Sarah Spencer, the IRC emergency team’s coordinator for gender based violence programs. ”Meanwhile, we know almost nothing about the extent of violence against women and the incidence of rape.”
With so many people lacking access to sanitation and medical facilities it seems only a matter of time before disease and epidemics begin to run rampant.
On Saturday, hundreds of homeless Haitians gathered in Champs de Mars to sing and pray. “We are alive, we are happy,” the people shouted, for the moment raising their spirits out of the wretched surroundings.
How long that moment will last no one knows. “It’s obvious that the people here are incredibly frustrated with their living conditions,” said Sarah Spencer.
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