The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Two Months after the Quake, Hard Life in Haiti’s Camps

Mar 29, 2010

Militants of the Revolutionary Workers Organization (OTR) in Haiti have been able to restart their paper La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), despite considerable difficulties. It stopped publication after the January 12 earthquake. We reprint here parts of their articles about the situation in Port-au-Prince.

Since the evening of the earthquake, around two million people of the west and southwest regions have slept out in the open. Even those who have houses which aren’t apparently affected fear entering them. Others sleep in the open, due to fear that an aftershock could kill them. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people rush to occupy public places and empty land. The number of people in camps varies from 200 up to 60,000, depending on the area squatted on. At Delmas 40, around 70,000 people are living in a camp.

Famine knocks at the door of hundreds of thousands of disaster victims. Food aid is distributed bit by bit by local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The World Food Program of the U.N., the greatest provider of food aid, had several tons of out-of-date food they hadn’t distributed, despite the fact plenty of Haitians had died of hunger before the earthquake hit. An inventory carried out after January 12 revealed that Food for the Poor has several warehouses of food that was supposed to have been used to help the victims of hurricanes Ike and Anna in the city of Gona ves.

But in order to have the right to a kit or a food ration from any NGO, a person had to have a voucher, commonly called a card. There are no rules about the distribution of cards, because there was never a census done in the camps. So each NGO works in its corner, without any central coordination. Thus, a resourceful person, or even a swindler can have several cards, while a needy family doesn’t have any. Factory workers, who leave the camps at 5 AM and return home at 6 or 7 PM, have no chance to get a card, because these are generally distributed during the day. People are often found running like madmen vainly from one point to another seeking cards.

Besides the NGOs, the city halls also carry out the distributions of food aid by means of cards. The situation is no better. Two individuals, one of whom the population suspects is a policeman from Carrefour Vincent, got a hundred cards from the mayor’s office of Cité Soleil, one of the largest shantytowns. They distributed part of these cards to their relatives and sold the rest for up to 250 Haitian gourdes apiece.

In certain cases, people can get a food ration without a card, through an improvised or, sometimes, an announced distribution. But in both cases, the beneficiaries have to line up. The lack of food staples, hunger and the great number of applicants pushes people to give up sleep, lining up early in the morning, sometimes at 1 or 3 AM, waiting until the middle of the day to be served.

Smaller camps, with hundreds of people, are often forgotten. The distribution of food aid ignores the existence of those people who are scattered during the day and who have no place to sleep but the pavement.

Depending on charity is a truly backward way to deal with a situation like this.