By Laura Blank in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
It hasn’t rained here for more than a week, but it rained again in Port-au-Prince last night. Not that torrential, heavy downpour this Caribbean nation is used to experiencing during the rainy season in April and May. Just a steady, slow kind of rain. But it doesn’t matter. The camps are already crowded, difficult places to live. Rain only makes it worse.
Earlier this week, I traveled down from Boston for my third trip to Haiti in the past several months. I had traveled here for work this summer, the time now known as “before.” Then, as part of my job as a disaster communications officer with World Vision, I was deployed to Port-au-Prince almost immediately after the earthquake and spent nearly a month here in January. After returning home for a bit, I found myself back on a plane to Haiti just a few days ago to join up with our relief response team here in the capital.
One of the things I hear most often from people is, “Are things getting any better down there?” That question is always asked with a bit of hope, but the underlying belief seems to be one full of more doubt than hope. How could a country so fragile before this disaster possibly survive – or even come back better – after this? And could anything improve in just a few months?
There is no easy answer to that question. But yes, Virginia, things have started to get a little bit better in Haiti. The humanitarian community has made headway, addressing critical issues like food insecurity, lack of water and emergency shelter in the early days after the quake.
Millions of people have been fed with staple food items through World Food Program partners like World Vision. Water trucks and bladders have been providing the camps with clean, safe drinking water. More than 50 humanitarian aid groups have been working to provide emergency shelter for the 1.3 million homeless people by the start of the rainy season, and at last count more than 75 percent had received those much-needed items.
Today, more than two months later, other challenges have emerged. Tonight’s rain—and the coming rainy season—reminds me of one growing concern: the health of Haiti’s children.
The rains exacerbate already-existing problems in the camps: crowded, filthy conditions; exposure to the weather; and lack of nutritious food. In fact, World Vision’s health specialists say the combination of wet weather and unsanitary camp conditions could heighten the health risks for children, including fears of malaria and dengue fever, diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.
I was in a camp known as Saint Preux the other day and saw one little baby, he couldn’t have been more than a month old, sleeping on the “floor” of his family’s tent. Isaac had been born with the help of one of our health specialists, and the “floor” in this tiny shelter was nothing more than the dirt and rocks on the ground. No blanket, certainly no mattress, nothing to protect him from the dirt—or mud—of this camp.
Aid agencies are working fast and furious to address these concerns. More emergency shelter supplies are being delivered, latrines are being built, mobile clinics are staffed up, flood-reduction projects are underway, and discussions continue on more sustainable solutions to ease the crowded living conditions in the camps. Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go.
In the meantime, Haiti’s children wait. The rain has stopped for now, but what will happen tomorrow?
Laura Blank is a World Vision disaster communications officer based in the U.S. She was on the ground in Haiti immediately following the earthquake, and recently returned to continue reporting.