By John Kisimir, World Vision’s relief communications expert from Kenya currently based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
I am on the trail, following thousands of people on the run from the tribulations of the devastating earthquake in Part-au-Prince, Haiti. An estimated 40,000 of them have fled to La Gonave, an island to the west of the capital city.
They have moved from the massive camps in Port-au-Prince either because they have family or friends in La Gonave or have found conditions in the sorrowful, overcrowded camps unbearable. Moving with them are thousands of children, distressed and hungry.
Parts of Haiti are like a sub-Saharan African nation—from its cultural beauty to an economy on its knees. But there are two things about Haiti that set it apart from a country in Africa. One is that it has been knocked flat out by the earthquake. Second it is not a young nation—it emerged from colonialism and slavery more than 200 years ago.
The country is a mere 680 miles from Miami, a world where expensive Ferraris grace the massive freeways. The Dominican Republic, Haiti’s island neighbor, hosts thousands of holiday-makers on all-inclusive Caribbean paradise tours. Yet Haiti’s children are just as desperate and hungry as many in Sudan, Congo, or Kenya.
Haiti’s poverty is crippling, to say the least. My visit to La Gonave is a testament to a forgotten and defeated people. Its roads are extremely neglected, making it near impossible for vehicles to pass. Residents find mules, donkeys, and their own feet more reliable transportation. Our drive through the hills and valleys was painful—the vehicle shook and swerved, creaking all the way—shaking those onboard like seeds in jar.
The island had an estimated 100,000 inhabitants before the 40,000 new arrivals. Its young people have little or no education and are unemployed. Thousands of those who fled Port-au-Prince have found a place among friends and relatives. Homes are overcrowded, food and water resources overstretched, and there will be challenges of accommodating the new children in schools.
World Vision has started food distributions here, but there are challenges in the days and weeks to come. Access to water has always been difficult in La Gonave. The quake has destroyed water tanks in many homes, and a water crisis is looming. Many schools have had classrooms damaged, and it is not clear how many will be usable when schools open. The cost of food has also shot up—the price of rice is up by 60 percent—since supplies from Port-au-Price are hard to come by.
I left La Gonave and returned to Port-au-Prince, the headquarters of sorrow, where street after street of fallen buildings and a million people in camps remind us of the work ahead to rebuild Haiti. This does not only entail responding to the immediate and longer-term needs of a fallen city, but reviving the hopes of those in rural and remote areas like La Gonave—who are now carrying the burden of the displaced.