Time to make money or to help people?
By Wadner Pierre-haitianalysis.com
Early in September of 2004, the people of Gonaives, the “city of Independence”, located 152 kilometers north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, woke to the destruction brought by Hurricane Jeanne. Four years after Jeanne killed 3000 people, Gonaives is in agony again.
Hurricane Gustav has devastated southern Haiti: Southeast (Jacmel) department, South department (Les Cayes), Grand’Anse (Jeremie) and Nippes (Miragoane) department. Authorities do not yet have reliable numbers but early reports estimate at least 190 people dead – a death toll that will certainly rise.
Officials say 61 people were killed by Hurricane Hanna, which also just struck Haiti. Twenty one of those dead were found in Gonaives alone.
Hurricane Jeanne ravaged Haiti in 2004 only eight months after the coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Gerard Latortue, head of the UN installed dictatorship and a native of Govaives, received money from all over the world to help Gonaives rebuild. Unfortunately, the victims received very little benefit from the money. Gonaives lies below sea level but levees were never built; many roads have still not been repaired. The meager results obtained with international aid money have produced a widespread belief in Gonaives that Latortue's cronies and corrupt NGOs simply pocketed the money.
In 2004 a young survivor of Hurricane Jeanne talked to a reporter and sarcastically thanked Jeanne for destroying her life by killing off her parents and countless relatives. Today many survive on the rooftops of their homes, and say that the flooding from Hannah is even worse than it was with Jeanne, which left 250,000 Gonaives resident homeless.
On Tuesday morning, the mayor of Gonaives, Mr. Stephen Moise (known by “Topa”) talked on the phone to an AP reporter. He described the situation as “extremely urgent” and appealed for help. The police chief of Gonaives, Ernst Dorfeuille described seeing dead bodies being carried away but the flood waters. After reading this report, I called my mother Andrena Pierre who lives in Govaives. She took the call on a cellphone from a neighbor's rooftop and warned that another storm was on its way.
A woman from Florida, a stranger, sent me an email after reading an alert posted on www.wadnerpierre.blogspot.com. She was worried about her boyfriend who was visiting his parents in Gonaives. She wrote
”I am writing to find out what is going to happen in Gonaives? I am so concerned for the people there. I am not Haitian but I know a lot of Haitian people and the man I am going to marry is in Gonaives....Last time I talked to him was Tuesday morning, they were on the top of the house he said he was feeling sick and his mom is not well too. I know they have nothing now, so I am so scared for them and everyone else too. I haven't been able to contact him at all in the last 24hours. I have been praying, I need information, Has anyone been able to get into Gonaives yet? How many are dead? What is happening today?”
She wrote back to me later
“I talked to my boyfriend in Haiti he is ok he said everyone is being moved and he said that so far he knows 55 people that have died and he said the water is coming down, but he doesn't have passport and ID to come home. I am glad that people are getting help now and I pray your family and others are ok too”.
I made contact with my mother's neighbor, a women of fifty, later that day:
“Everybody is being moved to the mountain,” she said “We are now in the mountain. You cannot arrive in Gonaives without a helicopter. Our situation is very complicated, It is a desperate -no hope for us in Gonaives.”
She then explained what made her feel worse than anything:
“...they won’t help us. They will take the aid money for their own businesses as they did in 2004....our situation can be better that it is now. It is worst than Jeanne.”
I was able to contact Evel Fanfan, a human rights worker in the Haitian capital.
“People in Port-au-Prince, particularly in Grande Ravine south of the capital are in a desperate situation. More than a hundred children in the Lycee of Martissant are without power, food and potable water for them to drink..” said Fanfan.
Asked what he thought of the official death tolls, he responded
“It is more than that - hundreds at least.” He pointed out that so many people have been cut off from the authorities - in the mountains, in the countryside – and that so many have basically gone into hiding. He did not accept that the government is in any position to give a credible estimate.
President Rene Preval, a native of the Artibonite department in which Gonaives is located, has appealed the international community for help. The uproar over his latest nomination for Prime Minister has ended. The Haitian Senate has just approved Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis as Prime Minister.
Aid money will arrive. The question is who will benefit from it. The people of Goaives are understandably pessimistic after their experience with Hurricane Jeanne.