Pressure for a coordinated response to Haiti’s deadly weekend earthquake increased on Wednesday as more bodies were pulled from the rubble and the wounded continued to arrive from remote areas seeking medical attention. Aid was slowly pouring in to help the thousands of people who were left homeless.
International aid workers on the ground said hospitals in the areas hardest hit by Saturday’s earthquake are mostly disabled and there is a desperate need for medical equipment. But the government told 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.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Wednesday that his administration will work not to “repeat the story about mismanagement and coordination of aid,” a reference to the chaos that followed the devastating 2010 earthquake in the country, when the government He was accused of not getting all the money raised by donors for people in need.
In a message on his Twitter account, Henry said that he “personally” will make sure that help reaches the victims this time.
Mon gouvernement n’entend pas repeater l’history quant à la mauvaise management and the coordination of l’aide. Je veillerai stafflement à ce que cette aide atteigne les vraies victimes. 1/2
– Dr Ariel Henry (@DrArielHenry) August 18, 2021
The Core Group, a coalition of key international diplomats from the United States and other nations that monitors Haiti, said in a statement Wednesday that its members are “resolutely committed to working alongside national and local authorities to ensure that people and areas affected receive appropriate assistance “. as soon as possible.”
Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 2,189 from a previous tally of 1,941 and said more than 12,000 people were injured. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged more than 12,000, leaving some 30,000 families homeless, authorities said. Schools, offices and churches were also demolished or badly damaged.
While some officials have suggested that the search phase should end and heavy machinery should be called in to clean up the debris, Henry did not seem ready to move to that stage.
“Some of our citizens are still under the rubble. We have teams of foreigners and Haitians working on that, ”he said.
He also called for unity: “We have to put our heads together to rebuild Haiti.”
“The country is physically and mentally destroyed,” Henry said.
The United States Geological Survey said a preliminary analysis of satellite images after the earthquake revealed hundreds of landslides.
Angry crowds demand food, shelter
Tensions rose Wednesday over slow relief efforts. At the airport in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, one of the hardest hit areas, crowds of people gathered outside the fence at the terminal after an aid flight arrived and crews began loading boxes onto trucks that they expected. One of the members of a Haitian national police squad that was on hand to guard the shipments fired two warning shots to disperse a group of youths.
Angry crowds also focused on collapsed buildings in the city, demanding tarps to create temporary shelters that were needed more than ever after Tropical Storm Grace brought heavy rains on Monday and Tuesday.
One of the first food deliveries by local authorities, a couple of dozen boxes of rice and pre-measured pre-packaged meal kits, arrived at a tent camp set up in one of the poorest areas of Les Cayes, where most of the one-story burrow, cinder block houses and tin roofs were damaged or destroyed by Saturday’s earthquake.
But the shipment was clearly insufficient for the hundreds who have lived under tents and tarps for five days.
“It is not enough, but we will do everything we can to make sure everyone gets at least something,” said Vladimir Martino, a resident of the camp who took over the precious cargo for distribution.
Gerda Francoise, 24, was one of dozens who lined up in the scorching heat in hopes of receiving food. “I don’t know what I’m going to get, but I need something to take to my store,” Francoise said. “I have a son.”
‘Even the animals are gone’
The earthquake wiped out many of the sources of food and income that the poor depend on to survive in Haiti, which is already battling coronavirus, gang violence and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7.
“We have nothing. Even the (farm) animals are gone. They were killed by the rockfalls,” said Elize Civil, 30, a farmer from the village of Fleurant, near the epicenter of the earthquake.
The village of Civil and many of those in Nippes province depend on livestock such as goats, cows and chickens for much of their income, said Christy Delafield, who works with the US-based aid organization Mercy Corps. The group is considering cash distributions to allow residents to continue purchasing local products from local small businesses that are vital to their communities.
Large-scale aid has yet to reach many areas, and a dilemma for donors is that dumping large amounts of staples bought abroad could, in the long run, hurt local producers.
“We don’t want to flood the area with a lot of produce from off the island,” Delafield said. He said relief efforts must also take a broader view for areas like Nippes, which has been hit in recent years by increasingly severe cyclical droughts and soil erosion. Support to adapt agricultural practices to the new climate reality, with less reliable rains and more tropical storms, is vital, he said.
Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at the University of Quisqueya, a private institution in the capital Port-au-Prince, said the disaster will increase Haitians’ dependence on remittances from abroad and assistance from international non-governmental groups.
“Foreign aid unfortunately never helps in the long term,” he said. “The Southwest needs, instead, activities that can boost economic capacity to generate jobs and better social conditions.”
One of the most immediate needs of the country now is medical equipment.
“All the hospitals are broken and collapsed, the operating rooms are down, and then if you bring in tents, it’s hurricane season, they can blow up right away,” said Dr. Barth Green, president and co-founder of Project Medishare, an organization that has worked in Haiti since 1994 to improve health services.
Green hoped that the US military would establish a field hospital in the affected area.
US Coast Guard helicopter crews focused on the most urgent task, transporting the injured to less stressed medical facilities. A US Navy amphibious warship, the USS Arlington, was expected to head to Haiti on Wednesday with a surgical team and a landing craft.
Green noted that his organization has “hundreds of medical volunteers, but the Haitian government tells us they don’t need them.”
He said Project Medishare was nevertheless being implemented, along with other organizations. He said he felt cautious on the part of the government after bad experiences with foreign aid after previous disasters.
At the public hospital in L’Asile, deep in a remote stretch of field in the southwest, the obstetrics, pediatrics and operating room wing collapsed, although they all made it out. Despite the damage, the hospital was able to treat some 170 seriously injured earthquake victims in makeshift tents set up on the facility grounds.
People came from isolated villages with broken arms and legs.
Hospital director Sonel Fevry said five of those patients presented Tuesday.
“We do what we can,” Fevry said.
Mercy Corps said about half of L’Asile’s homes were destroyed and 90% were affected in some way. Most of the public buildings where people normally took refuge were also destroyed. The nearby countryside was devastated: in a 16-kilometer (10-mile) stretch, not a single house, church, store or school was left standing.