January 12 marked the darkest day for a country whose history has been blighted by despotic rule, crippling poverty and natural disasters.
Dominic MacSorley, from Belfast, is the emergency director for Concern in Haiti. He has spoken to the Belfast Telegraph about the current situation and what the future holds for the devastated island.
He said: “In the early days the focus was on search and rescue. This has now shifted to trying to ensure that everyone — one million people — have something to sleep under and sufficient food and water. Unfortunately we are not there yet.”
Concern is one of about 400 organisations distributing aid in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, which was worst hit by the huge earthquake.
Mr MacSorley said: “Everywhere you go there are queues. People are lining up to receive basic packages — blankets, toothpaste, towels, water purification tablets.
“Everyone needs these things but many still do not have them”.
The distribution of aid is a huge logistical challenge. Concern has developed a registration process to ensure that it is distributed fairly and to those who need it the most.
However, it has been forced to enlist the support of the military as crime rises and gangs re-emerge.
“The longer the situation goes on the more desperate people become. Gangs and violence were a problem in Haiti before all this but now the aid supplies have become a target for mobs.”
Another complication to the aid effort is the imminent rainy season. Thousands are still without sufficient shelter and a shortage of sanitation facilities. Plans to build more latrines have been delayed by a shortage of building ground and the city is becoming increasingly congested as the 240,000 people who fled to the countryside begin to return.
As well as distributing aid Concern has developed a number of programmes across the city, including child-friendly spaces and cash-for-work schemes.
In designated ‘safe’ areas toys, books and structured play are provided for up to 800 children each day.
The spaces will also act as a kind of crèche as mothers queue up for supplies or look for jobs.
The men’s work programme will employ up to 10,000 people in manual jobs, such as street cleaning. This will give people buying power and will also assist in the clear-up and eventual reconstruction of the city.
When this rebuild finally begins it is vital that structures are made to withstand any future tremors.
Mr MacSorley said that, with 10 to 15% more investment, buildings could be constructed to be virtually earthquake-proof.
“We want to build Haiti up to a higher level than before and we must look at the medium and longer-term as part of a strategy for its future.
“It will be 10 or maybe 20 years but one month on and the message is clear — the spirit of Haiti is not buried under the rubble, it is back fighting strong.”
Haiti has issued wildly conflicting death tolls for the January 12 earthquake, adding to confusion about how many actually died — and to suspicion that nobody really knows.
Two days after Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue raised the official toll to 230,000, her office put out a statement quoting President Rene Preval as saying 270,000 bodies had been hastily buried by the government following the earthquake. A press officer withdrew the statement but re-issued it within minutes. Later, the ministry said that the number should have read 170,000.
Yesterday, Mr Preval said the number was 170,000, apparently referring to the bodies in mass graves. Interrupting, Ms Lassegue said the official number was 210,000. Mr Preval said: “She doesn't know what she's talking about.”
How you can help
The Disasters Emergency Committee – the umbrella organisation for 13 aid agencies including the British Red Cross and Oxfam – has launched an emergency appeal to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake.
If you would like to make a donation, please call 0370 60 60 900 or visit www.dec.org.uk
- Concern Worldwide: 0800 032 4002
- ActionAid: w ww.actionaid.org.uk or 01460 238000
- Christian Aid: www.christianaid.org.uk/haiti-appeal or 08080 004 004
- Merlin: www.merlin.org.uk or 0207 014 1714
- Oxfam: www.oxfamireland.org or 0800 0 30 40 55
- British Red Cross: www.redcross.org.uk/ or 0845 053 5353
- Save the Children: 020 7012 6400
Video: Oxfam provide emergency aid in Haiti
Oxfam is providing clean water, sanitation and shelter to tens of thousands of people affected by the earthquake.
Video: Moments after the earthquake struck capital
A Brazilian soldier stationed in Port-au-Prince captured the scene of devastation just moments after the quake struck.
Video: Aerial view of the devastation