by Andrew Bruce
The one month anniversary of the earthquake was marked by a national day of mourning during which President Préval told mourners “Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die”. Prayer services were held across the country. Statements released by the Haitian government put the number of dead at 230,000 or even 270,000. This compares with 250,000 killed in the 2004 Asian tsunami, across several countries, underlining the magnitude of the disaster. The government also reported that around 300,000 people were injured.
The logistics situation is improving. At the peak of the emergency response, the airport in Port-au-Prince was receiving 160 flights a day. However, this number has now dropped off to around 74 flights a day as air cargo is increasingly replaced by sea transport. The port in Port-au-Prince is handling an average of 350 containers a day now that specialized cranes are in place. Two floating docks are being installed, which should increase capacity to 1,500 containers by next week.
Around one million people were left homeless after the earthquake and providing these people with shelter is a priority. Most of those made homeless are living in hundreds of temporary camps set up around Port-au-Prince and other affected areas. Aid organizations report that some 272,000 people have been given some form of emergency shelter so far. There is currently a shortage of tents and many people are living under sheeting strung across wooden poles. The European Union has proposed a military mission to help with the provision of shelter before the rains worsen.
With so many people living in makeshift camps, sanitation is a major concern. The UN reports that malaria and dengue are widespread during the rainy season, which is approaching, and current conditions in the camps will increase the risk of outbreaks. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 18,000 pit latrines are needed for the homeless, one per 50 people, but at present only about one per 1,000 people are available. A water sanitation and hygiene project is providing safe drinking water to over 900,000 people a day at 300 sites across Port-au-Prince.
Prior to the earthquake more than 2.4 million Haitians were considered “food insecure”. One third of newborn babies were born underweight and rates of anemia were high in toddlers and pregnant women. Since the earthquake struck, two million people have received some form of food aid – mostly a 25 kg sack of rice to feed a family for two weeks. Security has been a concern for food distribution agencies. Food convoys have been attacked by armed gangs and people without food coupons have tried to gain access to distribution areas.
Finance Ministers of the G7, which includes Canada, France Germany, Italy, Japan the United States and the United Kingdom, have pledged to write off debts owed by Haiti and encourage other countries and lending institutions, including the Inter-American Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, to do the same. A petition containing 400,000 names was delivered to the meeting by the ONE campaign. According to Oxfam, following this announcement Haiti owes around $900 million to other countries and institutions. In June 2009, the international community agreed to cancel some $1.2 billion of the country’s debt, as part of a programme for heavily indebted poor countries.
President Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, has agreed to take on an expanded leadership role in co-ordinating the UN’s international aid effort. In particular, he will provide strategic guidance for the UN’s work to achieve Haiti’s early recovery and long-term reconstruction, with a special emphasis on mobilizing international support from both the public and private sectors.