Haiti’s Stricken Gonaives Desperate for Food, Supplies

CRS’ program manager for Haiti, Greg Elder, is reporting from Gonaives.

The Haitian city of Gonaives is still only reachable by air and water. I sailed along the coastline with five other CRS staffers in an old fishing boat navigated by diving instructor well known in Port-au-Prince. Its insides had been stripped and there was plenty of room for supplies and the food provisions we carried in our bags to last us the 5-10 days we’d be in the field. It was a two-hour boat ride through debris littered water -empty bottles, trash, and pieces of wood stirred up by the hurricanes.

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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

The port of Gonaives was teeming with activity. There was a U.S. freighter with three landing crafts, those had been released and were taking supplies in to the city. Six helicopters flew overhead, carrying more supplies -including ours- from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives.

My first impression as I surveyed the city was of the very tall mountains devoid of any trees or grass. There was no foliage in sight: only rock and dirt. It was so barren, and it was very hot because there is hardly any shade. Mud caked buildings lined the Gonaives streets. People were scooping out bucketfuls of water or shoveling through the 3-4 feet of mud that Ike and Hanna had dumped into their homes. Overturned vehicles were everywhere, also cars and trucks that had either gotten stuck in the mud or had tried to cross while the water was rising.

The need is tremendous. As we drove through the streets people would see the CRS logo and run up to our truck with outstretched hands pleading for help. Every food distribution done by the World Food Program (WFP), for example, is guarded by U.N. troops. If a truck pulls up with food, people will chase it. They’ll follow it. One night, out of safety concerns, we left our truck parked by the police station. The next morning we had to walk through a wave of people. At least a 1,000 had gathered thinking there was going to be a food distribution. We had to maneuver our way out from the crowd with the help of the police.

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