Waiting in vain, the quarter of a million Haiti residents at risk from cholera who are wondering when all that help the international community promised will arrive
Riots in hell-strewn Haiti have left two people dead as desperate locals blaming foreign peacekeepers for a deadly outbreak of cholera exchanged gunfire with soldiers.
Protesters in several Haitian cities attacked the 12,000-strong UN force, which has admitted shooting dead a demonstrator in both Quartier Morin and Cap-Haitien.
The riots are rooted in fear of a devastating disease previously unknown to an island that is yet to recover after being ravaged by an earthquake at the start of the year, as SUE REID reports...
Heated protest: A woman covers her face from the smoke of burning tires set up by rioters in Port-au-Prince
For row after interminable row, the tents stretch as far as the human eye can see at a squalid camp on the northern side of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Each has a number on a board pegged into the rain-sodden ground outside and is home to a family waiting for cholera to strike them down.
The disease began its rampage an hour's drive away from this camp, called Croix de Bouquet, last month. Now nearly one thousand people in Haiti are dead and cholera has reached the capital.
UN soldiers with guns march down the lines of tents to stop rioting over deliveries of emergency medicines and water, while charity workers hand out soap in a desperate attempt to boost hygiene levels and stop the cholera in its tracks.
It is a terrifying race against time. Boys and girls with ribs clearly visible after months of hunger play in the filthy rivulets of water amid piles of rubbish.
These are the forgotten children of a forgotten country, still reeling from one of the world’s worst earthquakes in January when 300,000 people were killed and a million more were made homeless in an instant.
Ignored by the international community that promised so vocally to help, Haiti was already struggling to survive when cholera first came calling.
A child with cholera symptoms is treated by volunteer American doctors at a hospital in Archaie, Haiti. Thousands have been hospitalised for cholera across the country
At St Nicholas’s hospital in St Marc, a town 50 miles north of Croix de Bouquet where the disease first surfaced last month, they ran out of beds to treat the ill long ago.
The sick lie on wooden boards, pieces of cardboard, towels or just on the ground. Babies are too poorly for them to be moved, and their cholera-stricken mothers too weak to lift them.
Some of the young patients vomit into bowls as the flies gather overhead.
This week there were 20 bodies, including children, piled up there.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess.
So many children were orphaned in the Haiti quake that 250,000 parentless youngsters live on the streets begging for food each day.
At night they retreat to the slum of Cite Soleil in the heart of the capital, where raw sewage seeps out from makeshift houses and there are no toilets or clean water. It is a catastrophe in the making.
The World Health Organisation believes a quarter of a million could be struck down with the disease.
'From the slum of Cite Soleil there are 216 adults and children in hospital with cholera. A few days ago it was only 30. I can easily see this situation deteriorating to the point where patients are lying in the street, waiting for treatment. All of the Port-au-Prince hospitals are overflowing,' explained Stefano Zannini, who heads up the French charity Doctors without Borders in Haiti.
Haitian cholera victims receive treatment inside a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince. The death toll from Haiti's cholera epidemic has reached more than 900
Until cholera came here, the 400,000 Haitians dispossessed by the quake had a kind of existence in the huge charity-run camps like Croix de Bouquet.
Others lived in handbuilt shacks, which cover every spare patch of land in Port au Prince, including a public park near the president’s white marble palace, which collapsed like a squashed meringue in the quake.
It was outside the palace that former U.S. President Clinton made a rousing public speech in the summer assuring the Haitian people that the world would help them restore their shattered Caribbean nation.
As UN special envoy to the country, Clinton received a glittering thank you medal from the Haitian president after he pledged five billion dollars in international aid, including 1.5 billion from the US, for new houses, schools, shops and roads.
Haiti is still waiting. Only a fraction of the money - $700 million - has arrived. A former senior US diplomat, John Simon, has said the tragic delay has helped impede 'the steps needed to help Haiti come back from a cholera epidemic’.
Even the US has let Haiti down. It is preparing to send just ten per cent of the money it promised to Haiti after squabbles in the American Senate over the rights and wrongs of giving such a large amount to a country bedevilled by government corruption and fraudulent officials.
Meanwhile, the money that has got through the red tape and political bickering is, by all accounts, being wasted.
The British medical journal The Lancet alleges that the international charities compete with one another for influence in the beleaguered country and misspend aid on futile projects which do little to help the people.
I watched as aid workers with clipboards drove around Port-au-Prince in shiny 4x4 limousines.
They operated out of air-conditioned, tented offices near the airport and offered every possible programme from children’s play camps to birth control seminars and bereavement counselling.
A man waits for a water truck to fill his buckets on the outskirts of the Haitian capital. The cholera epidemic is present in six of the ten provinces of the country
An American nurse, 58-year-old Michael Brewer - who has run a street refuge for children in Haiti for 11 years - told the Mail: ‘What the people here need now is proper homes.
‘The money sent from abroad goes on the wrong things.
The aid agencies don’t know about building houses or cleaning up a slum like Cite Soleil. Yet they have become the custodians of the funds arriving here because the Haiti government cannot be trusted with it.’
All this is yet another blow for Haiti where even before the disaster half the population lived on 75p a day, and a man’s life expectancy was 59. Decades of Government corruption, organised crime and ruthless dictators made it the poorest nation in the Americas.
Yet if life was bad then, in some ways it is worse today.
When I first visited Haiti days after the earthquake, I saw a devastated nation and a people in deep shock.
At the state cemetery in Port-au-Prince, crushed bodies arrived every six minutes, every day and all day. One in four homes, schools, supermarkets and offices were flattened. In most badly-hit suburbs hardly a building was upright.
There was, however, hope that the future would be better. Today, that optimism has disappeared.
As Edouard James, a 32-year-old DVD seller living in the squalor of central Port-au-Prince, explained to me when I returned recently: ‘People are getting angry. They are tired of rich countries and international charities promising them a better life, and then nothing happening.’
Marie Claude, a stout 55-year-old matriarch, was vocal too. She has six children living with her in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter on a patch of land ten minutes walk from the president’s palace. The home is not fit for a dog.
There are gaping holes in the roof and a hard mud floor where her family sleep at night. A tin tub serves as a lavatory, a yellow bucket as a bath. Stinking water runs in a stream through the shack. The march of cholera here will be relentless.
Marie’s husband, a builder, was buried in their collapsing house at the epicentre of the quake, 40 miles from Port au Prince. She left him there, dead, and bundled her family into camper van the same night to drive to the capital.
‘The charities and our government kept saying we would get food, a home, and the children a school. I believed it all,’ she said.
‘Now I know it was to make us calm down and not cause trouble
A soldier watches a man washing in a refugee camp of Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince, where cholera has ravaged the locals
Life was no better in the tented camps of Port-au-Prince. Tropical rains have flooded Croix de Bouquet, turning the land into a quaqmire. Water rushing down from hills nearby recently caused residents to run for their lives. Hundreds of tents floated away.
‘We are frightened’, student nurse Bletude Marisma, 26, told me at the entrance of her tent number 132.
‘The wind is strong too and blows the tents from over our heads. What will happen when worse rains come in the winter?’
Beside her Antoine Lewis, 34, who lost his wife in the quake and now brings up his sons, aged 10 and 11, added: ’This is no place for a child. There is no school and they should have a home. Of course we are bitter. Our children have no hope in Haiti.'
The British charity Save the Children says that most Haitians still have no clean water, electricity, healthcare or a safe place to live.
Doctors Without Borders has criticised the ‘staggering gap between the enthusiasm and promises for aiding earthquake victims and the dire reality on the ground’.
Mark Weisbrot, of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC, has gone further.
‘It is indefensible that ten months after the earthquake, so many are still living in temporary shelter. This is the result of the international failure to achieve even the most basic reconstruction of Haiti.’
UN peacekeepers patrol at a refugee camp. Protesters who hold Nepalese UN peacekeepers responsible for an outbreak of cholera threatened to set fire to a base in Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest city
No wonder that an angry crowd recently marched through Port-au-Prince’s Avenue Martin Luther King calling for the return of ‘Baby Doc’, the ruthless Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who fled to Paris in 1986 after slaughtering 40,000 of his opponents.
Little surprise too that the angry Haitians this week turned their wrath on the UN soldiers and blamed them for importing cholera, a disease not seen in the country for more than a century. In the riot that followed, two Haitians were killed by the UN forces.
That demonstration was a sign of growing desperation. Only two per cent of the rubble caused by the earthquake has been cleared. It will cost $1.5 billion to shift the rest before any new homes can be built. To do the work, 1,000 trucks are needed for three years. Yet Haiti only has 300 in total.
To add to Haiti’s troubles, there are thousands of disputes over land ownership and the Government is levying a 20 per cent tax on all building materials coming into the country.
A ‘blueprint’ to move people out of the vast tented towns and into new homes is no more than that - it remains in draft form on the desks of Haitian civil servants.
And now, of course, there is cholera, too. Save the Children has warned that children – especially toddlers and babies – are most vulnerable to the deadly bacteria spread in dirty water, which can kill an adult in three hours.
UN peacekeepers patrol in the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince. They have already shot dead two rioters
Lisa Laumann, Save the Children’s Programme Director in Haiti, explained the other day: ‘Many children are malnourished, which makes them even more susceptible. Victims can die extremely fast from dehydration and exhaustion.
‘The conditions in many of the camps are squalid, with hundreds of families living in very close proximity to rubbish strewn around the tents.
‘Children like to play. It’s the rainy season and if they see a puddle, they often want to jump in it or splash their hands, which can spread cholera.’
Today, as the benighted inhabitants wait in vain for the aid the world promised them, even an innocent children’s game can be lethal.
UN in plea for Haiti cholera aid
Up to 200,000 Haitians could contract cholera as the outbreak which has already killed 800 is set to spread across the battered Caribbean nation of nearly 10 million, the United Nations warned today.
That would be double the 100,000 cases during a huge cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe between August 2008 and July 2009, which killed 4,287 people. The UN forecast of the number of cases in Haiti was based partly on the Zimbabwe toll.
In a strategy plan drawn up with Haiti's government and aid agencies, the UN said Haiti needs $163.9 million (€119.7 million) in aid over the next year to combat the epidemic, the first cholera outbreak in the country in a century.
Cholera could also spread to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, it said.
"The strategy anticipates a total of up to 200,000 people to show symptoms of cholera ranging from cases of mild diarrhoea to the most severe dehydration," Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a news briefing in Geneva today.
"Cases are expected to appear in a burst of epidemics that will happen suddenly in different parts of the country," she said.
The death toll from the outbreak rose to 800 yesterday and at least 11,125 patients have been hospitalised since the outbreak began more than three weeks ago.
"The death rate isn't increasing but it is still much higher than usual, 6 to 7 percent. It should be much lower," World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Gregory Hartl told the same news briefing.
Haiti's epidemic was aggravated by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas this month and added to a humanitarian emergency in the wake of the massive earthquake in January which killed more than 250,000.
The earthquake made some 1.5 million people homeless, and living conditions in the western hemisphere's poorest state leave people extremely vulnerable to the disease, which is spread by dirty water or food.
The entire population is at risk because no one has immunity to cholera. The country has all the classic risk factors for the disease - overcrowded camps for displaced quake survivors, a scarcity of safe drinking water, improper elimination of human waste and the contamination of food during or after its preparation.
Cases have been confirmed in five of the 10 departments, including the capital Port-au-Prince, with "high probability of spread through all the country within the coming months", according to the UN strategy document.
"Additionally, the population of the Dominican Republic with which Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola is at risk.
"Particular attention should be paid to cross-border areas and to the displaced, mobile and vulnerable populations as high-risk groups for disease outbreak and the spread of cholera," it said.
The response has been "swift and effective", preventing many deaths in Haiti, but more relief supplies and medical personnel are urgently needed in coming days and weeks, Ms Byrs said. "We continue to scale up operations in order to meet urgent needs, but if we do not have the supplies and the people to deliver them, the epidemic may outrun our efforts," she said.
Hartl said: "If you can prevent it, you've won two-thirds of the game." But if people do develop the disease, they can be saved if treated early with oral rehydration salts or antibiotics.
The challenge is to put across the "self-help message" that cholera can be prevented through good hygiene
such as frequent hand washing and boiling water.
Help for Haiti: Where You Can Donate
Here is a list of some of the agencies that are ready to take donations to aid in the ongoing Haitian relief effort
The powerful earthquake that struck Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince in January left tens of thousands feared dead and possibly millions homeless -- and after floods, cholera outbreaks and tropical storms, the battered island nation still needs your help.
Here is a list of some of the agencies that are ready to take donations to aid in the ongoing Haitian relief effort:
- Action Against Hunger - International agency has hundreds of staffers in Haiti. Click or call (877) 777-1420.
- American Red Cross - Donors can send a $10 donation by texting "Haiti" to 90999.
- American Jewish World Service - Log on to donate as little as $36. Click or call (212) 792-2900.
- AmeriCares - Click or call (800) 486-4357.
- Beyond Borders - Click or call (866) 424-8403
- CARE - Click or call (800) 521-2273
- Catholic Relief Services - Click or call (800) 736-3467
- Childcare Worldwide - Click or call (800) 553-2328.
- Direct Relief International - Click or call (805) 964-4767.
- Doctors Without Borders - Click or call (888) 392-0392.
- Feed My Starving Children - Click or call (763) 504-2919.
- Habitat for Humanity - Click or call (800) 422-4828.
- Haitian Health Foundation - Click or call (860) 886-4357.
- Hope for Haiti - Click or call (239) 434-7183.
- International Medical Corps - Click or call (800) 481-4462.
- Islamic Relief USA - Click or call 1 (888) 479-4968
- Medical Teams International - Click or call (800) 959-4325.
- Operation USA - Click or call (800) 678-7255.
- Oxfam - Click or call (800)776-9326.
- UNICEF - Click or call (800) 367-5437.
- The Humane Society of the United States - Click or call (301) 258-8276
- World Concern - Click or call (800)755-5022.
- World Hope International - Click or call (888)466-4673.
The U.S. State Department Operations Center said Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti should call 1-888-407-4747.
Last new :just one hour :
18.11.10 - 07:45
Manifestations et émeutes se poursuivent en Haïti. Ces troubles perturbent les efforts de lutte contre le choléra et, du coup, l'épidémie pourrait encore s'accélérer. C'est une course contre la montre qui est engagée.
Un homme a été tué par balles ce jeudi et des heurts entre Casques bleus et manifestants ont fait plusieurs blessés. Cela s'est passé à Cap-Haïtien, la deuxième ville du pays.
Les manifestants protestent contre la gestion de la crise sanitaire et en rendent même responsables les casques bleus. Mais, selon l'ONU, ces manifestations sont orchestrées par des agitateurs politiques ou des délinquants.
Ces émeutes aggravent la situation sanitaire. Dans le nord du pays, les organisations humanitaires se retrouvent paralysées. Les routes sont bloquées par des manifestants, des pneus qui brûlent ou des barrages.
L'ONG Oxfam explique que ses camions sont bloqués. Ils transportent du savon, des tablettes de purification d'eau ou des sels de réhydratation, denrées indispensables pour lutter contre le choléra. Et les agents de l'ONU ne se sont pas rendus à leur travail ce jeudi, en raison de l'insécurité.
Tout cela retarde donc la lutte contre l'épidémie. Or, le temps est un critère décisif pour juguler le choléra, qui peut tuer en quelques heures. Le bilan continue d'ailleurs à s'alourdir de jours en jour. Le choléra a déjà fait plus de 1100 morts en Haïti.
Un cas en Floride mais peu de risques d'épidémie aux Etats-Unis
La Floride a fait état d'un cas confirmé de choléra chez un habitant qui s'était rendu auprès de sa famille en Haïti. Mais le risque d'une épidémie est minime aux Etats-Unis en raison du niveau élevé d'hygiène.