The local delicacy in Cité Soleil is known as “mud-cake”. It's a sort of biscuit, made from clay, salt and a little bit of cooking oil, then baked dry in the sun. “They fill you up,” a local explained, “but they are no good for your health. I guarantee: if you eat too many of them, you will be sick.”
Right now mud-cakes are selling like, well, hot cakes, on the cobbled streets of the Cité, a shanty town sandwiched between Haiti's airport and the Caribbean. Around 300,000 people live here in the nation's most impoverished slum. Before last week they had almost nothing; now they've even less. Cakes made from clay are the only food they can afford.
International aid may at be last trickling painfully slowly into the rubble-strewn centre of Port-au-Prince. But in this filthy shanty town half an hour's drive away, where families sleep five or six to small shacks, next to none has arrived. And the poorest of the poor complain that their plight is being forgotten.
“We don't have doctors, we don't have food, we don't have water,” said Louis Jean Jaris, a 29-year-old resident. “The aid comes to Haiti, but it goes elsewhere. In Cité Soleil we are all victims, just like everyone else, but compared to the rest of the country we are a low priority. To the people in power we are not considered to be victims.”
Black Hawk helicopters were thundering overhead yesterday,
taking aid from the airport to desperate survivors. But the shanty town does not have an official food aid distribution post and only one small water truck was to be found on the streets, surrounded by a fractious crowd.
Small amounts of supplies are of course available to those who have money. But Cité Soleil's biggest employer, a garment factory, has yet to reopen and most locals are instead forced to walk miles into central Port-au-Prince in search of handouts. So far the dysfunctional international aid effort means they are very lucky to find any.
Medical supplies are also virtually non-existent. At a nearby field hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontieres, one of the few aid agencies to so far brave the Cité, staff said that supplies had almost run dry. “I have never seen anything like this,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF's Choscal Hospital there.
The main reason most aid workers are afraid to enter Cité Soleil is crime. For years the slum has been run by gangs. During the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 it became a virtual war zone. Though things have improved in recent years — after police raids led to the arrest of powerful gang leaders — Westerners are advised not to set foot in the neighbourhood.
And since last Tuesday's quake, the security situation has been compounded by fears prompted by the collapse of Haiti's biggest prison which held around 3,000 inmates — including some of the Cité's gang leaders.