In January, 2010, Haiti experienced an earthquake which registered 7.0 on the Richter scale, with the epicenter 12 miles outside its main city of Port au Prince that over 2 million people inhabit. One year later, estimates put the death toll at over 230,000, and bodies are still unrecovered. As people lost their family, friends, homes, and jobs, the world watched in horror. Makeshift "tent" structures were created to temporarily house those who remained in Port au Prince, and other badly hit areas.
By November, 2010 it was estimated that 1.3 million people remained in these shelters across Haiti that have been ravaged by the flooding of Hurricane Tomas, and now the spread of cholera. Many of these tent "camps" were built on top of the rubble left by the quake and layers beneath the soil are the remains of those that were killed.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of nongovernmental organizations, known as NGOs, poured into the country after the earthquake to provide emergency services. The groups - from international brand names like Save the Children to unknown Baptist missionaries from Oklahoma - were supported by overwhelming global generosity, including more than $1.4 billion in donations from Americans.
One year later, on the ground visiting the camps that have become home to families who were displaced last January, the Haitian people respond. The residents have been waiting for relief as promised, but these camps have become permanent structures in Haiti, from Port au Prince to Leogane. Even though billions were pledged to the reconstruction efforts, most of which came through donations online, text messages, and major fundraising done by artists, activists and musicians, less than 4 % of that has actually reached the people. The million plus people that remain homeless, bathe in the gutters, children do not attend regular school sessions, and have now been struck by the cholera epidemic.
In October, 2010, when the first cases of cholera were reported, the disease quickly spread from the fishing villages into Port au Prince. Poor or no sanitation facilities, lack of clean water, and the overcrowding in living conditions where people are jammed into tarpaulin structures, caused the disease to reach epidemic proportions quickly. By January, 2011, cholera claimed the lives of over 4,000 people, and infected 40,000. Emergency clinics were established and an estimated 700 cases a day were reported at the height of the outbreak.
Back in March, 2010, just after the earthquake struck, a personal report from Tyler Westbrook who works with "Sustainable Orphanages for Haitian Youth (SOFHY)", a small NGO operating in Haiti, was filed:
Well, these are my last of two nights in a hotel. I searched high and low for a net connection fast enough to upload some videos... and ended up here in this posh hotel. AC, flush toilet, net and everything... Damn swimming pool to boot. The sound of music and gentle laughter fills the air as the elite enjoy relaxing, eating swimming and lounging. I heard valley dialect " Like, Oh my god, my flight was terrible" One might think one was in a resort in Florida.
I had a choice, lunch or dinner, with the funds I had left, and choose to go out of the gates to find food cheap enough to afford both. A young boy I met out the gates led me to a shack made of tin and plastic sheeting where food was made by a Creole Mamma, in the midst of a tent city. It seemed a million miles away from inside the Gates. The desperation, hunger and thirst were clear.
This is a place where I doubt a white man had ever been. The road impassible for the rubble, and my presence a surprise. Even Haitians from outside the city fear to tread in such places, but I was hungry and needed some smokes and was neither willing nor able to pay American prices.
I tipped my young guide well, and walked back the block or two to my hotel, with a gathering but polite crowd and returned to my room to eat a delicious street cooked food of vegetables, beans and rice, and a little chicken to boot. The face of the woman serving the food gave me trust in her delicious cooking.
Luxury and desperation but a block apart. But the walls keep each from seeing the other. Tomorrow the Priest comes for me... and back to the country I go.
This month SOFHY returned to that same place. Now, the same tents were there but the residents called home the "C.J.P Hatt 4" earthquake refugee camp where over 2,000 people remain. It is located a block away from the hotel where the rates are $100.00 per night, and many very influential members of the NGO community stay.
The hotel is gated, has a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, and security guards with machine guns at the door. When you step outside the gates, this refugee camp is teaming with people who are selling food, washing clothes, and playing music, as they had been about one year ago. However, now, the conditions have deteriorated immensely.
Tyler Westbrook, visiting in January, 2011, reports:
Here I am almost a year later, same hotel, again on my last money, but desperate to upload videos and photos. Again I go out to the camp nearby, for the same reasons, I am hungry and can't afford nor justify eating such overpriced food at the hotel. I go to the same tin and plastic shack, same Creole mamma, and same type of food. But, she looks tired now and so much older than what a year should do to one. At the table was a youth who remembered me, the same child that guided me to this place, comes up and holds my hand. There I meet folks from the camp, and ask if I may return to interview them of the life and document conditions in the camp. They welcome me to return. So, I did, after calling a journalist I know to come, and they gave us a tour of the camp.
The camp is built upon a place used for rubbish and excrement. Seventy dead are buried there in a mass grave with shelters built upon them due to a lack of space. Cholera is in the camp, the toilets built by then abandoned by OXFAM are overflowing. The water containers for the camp have not been filled in 7 months. No work, little hope.