Haiti Visitor: Latest Storms More Damaging Than 2004’s Jeanne

Photojournalist David Snyder is reporting from Haiti for CRS. In his first post from Gonaives, he notes the sheer devastation brought by recent storms and the help that’s finding it’s way to the people who need it most.

Gonaives, Haiti: I was traveling with CRS in Asia through early September and saw the news headlines on September 8 about Hurricane Ike, and its effect on Haiti. Now, less than three weeks later, I am in Haiti to see CRS efforts in the wake of the storm, which devastated the island nation. Particularly hard hit was the northern city of Gonaives. It is not my first time here. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne also devastated Gonaives, and I was here with CRS to document that response as well. From what I have seen so far, Ike has been far more devastating. The entire city is covered in deep mud – more than 2.5 million cubic meters of it – dumped into the city by the hillsides that surround it on three sides, all of which have been completely deforested. Everywhere, people are working with simple tools to clean their homes out, filling the already narrow streets with mountains of black mud. One UN staff member estimates that it would take 200 trucks, working seven days a week, a full year to remove all of the mud from the city. And there are nowhere near that many trucks here.

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The Cathedral in the port city of Gonaives, Haiti is currently sheltering up to 200 people in its upper level. Mud and waters from hurricane Ike flooded the church, but the upper level managed to stay dry. Photo by Greg Elder/CRS

I went out today to see a CRS food distribution at the Missionaries of Charity compound. CRS has been working through the sisters there, as well as through partner Caritas Haiti, to distribute family ration kits of staples like rice, beans, sugar, dried fish, and bottled water. Today’s distribution reached 500 families – about 2,500 people – part of the 1,500 such kits CRS has delivered so far. Over the years I have seen many such distributions, and I am always amazed by how much organization goes into each one. Beneficiaries are always pre-registered, selected through assessments to affected communities. Once registered, a family member – usually a woman – is given a paper coupon and told to arrive at the distribution site on a given day. When she arrives – like today, for example, at the Missionaries of Charity compound – she is let in with a small group. Their names are called in turn, and each beneficiary turns in a coupon before receiving rations, sometimes moving from station to station to receive different elements of the overall kit. As one group receives their ration, another is let into the compound, and the process repeats itself – for seven hours, today. It sounds simple. But in the midst of the anxiety, frustration, and anger that often follow disasters, such organization is essential not only to make sure those most in need are reached quickly and effectively, but also for security. Everyone must see that the process is fair and equal, that no one who is not registered is receiving food, and that those who are receiving food are in fact the most needy members of the community. It is delicate and tiring work, particularly in the heat and devastation of Haiti today.

I will head out this week to see other CRS projects. Emergencies like this have their own sort of energy, and things often take shape very quickly as needs arise or priorities shift. Right now, those priorities are food and water. CRS also plans some cash-for-work projects next week, helping locals earn money they can use to buy what they need, and bring some semblance of normality back to their lives after the trauma of the past few weeks.

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One Response to “Haiti Visitor: Latest Storms More Damaging Than 2004’s Jeanne”

  1. SIARA PREVILON Says:

    hi my name siara i’m a part of haiti but i came to U.S.A when i was 13 and what now i’m 16 i have something in my head one day i gonna help Haiti.

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