Haitians seek food, shelter and long-term change

2010-01-27 09:05

FOOD and a roof over their heads are what quake-battered Haitians

are seeking now. But beyond that, they are urging the international community to

help their long-suffering country make more fundamental changes.

The most urgent needs of the million people uprooted by the January

12 earthquake are being able to drink, eat and shelter themselves with


“They must begin by helping those who have lost their houses,” said

Suze Jean-Francois, a 28-year-old gardener living in a makeshift camp in the

centre of Port-au-Prince.

Every day he scrounges for food, sometimes with no luck.

Many survivors of the earthquake feel they have seen little of the

aid that has poured into Haiti since the 7.0 magnitude temblor struck nearly two

weeks ago, flattening large areas of the capital.

In the flimsy patchwork of camps that have sprung up in the

capital, everyone who is asked says they are hungry.
Nobody seems to know where

distribution points for food and water are located. Not a single big tented camp

has been erected.

Outside the city, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought

refuge, families have to fend for themselves.

Haitians know that aid will eventually get through.

But they are concerned about how it will be handled in a country

with a reputation for corruption.

At Monday’s meeting of donor countries in Montreal, Haitian Prime

Minister Jean-Max Bellerive asked for international backing for the “colossal

work” of reconstruction that lies ahead.

But many Haitians, like Barbara, a 30-year-old banker, do not trust

the government and President Rene Preval whose performance in the crisis has

been sharply criticised.

She said: “I would rather that the aid pass through the hands of

foreigners and NGOs. I do not have great confidence in the leaders of this

country. This isn’t the first time that there have been donations and it is

always handled badly.”

While expressing impatience, Haitians say they are touched by the

outpouring of support from the international community. But they want more than

just emergency aid for what is one of the world’s poorest countries.

An evangelical pastor Andre Muscadin said: “The West has come to

help us. It is extraordinary but it will not last. Rather than give us a fish,

teach us to catch fish.”

They hope the quake will have a shock effect on their leaders and

that the assistance of foreign governments will lead to a complete change in the

country’s governing structure.

They denounce the lack of transparency and coordination on the part

of the authorities, excessive centralisation, failing educational and social

systems, and anarchic urban growth which has proved deadly during the


Sonel Louis, a 42-year-old accountant, said foreign governments

need to take Haiti’s government in hand and train it.

“Haiti needed to be rebuilt before this catastrophe, there was a

need to transform this society. Perhaps this is the right time to think about a

new Haiti,” he said, echoing a commonly held view.

One diplomat said: “One of the biggest challenges for those

providing international aid will be to figure out how to strengthen the central

direction of the authorities to ensure there is no chaos.”

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