Monday, August 27, 2012

Weathering Isaac

Sunday, August 26

The sun is finally out.

On the main streets of Petionville, you can’t even tell there was a storm. The streets have been swept - are cleaner than usual, in fact. Shoe and second-hand clothes vendors are out, the tap-tap station is bumping, that annoying moto taxi driver on Rue Faubert that always whistles at me… The street market is bustling and supermarkets and restaurants are open.

That post-storm, post-disaster greeting of neighbors and acquaintances: “Nou pa gen anyen?” (roughly: “Is anything wrong?” meaning, of course, “Did anything happen to you, your family, your house…?” ). Everyone is fine. Everything is fine. 

I’m looking for an extension cord, candles and a replacement globe for our kerosene lamp – the only lasting impact of Isaac at our house is that we still don’t have electricity. (Then again, we could be without electricity here on any given day).

It took me about an hour to clean up our yard today, and our ‘debris’ looked like pretty parade confetti:

Friday night was long, though. Even with windows shut tight against 60-mph winds, I couldn’t sleep. Howling, slashing, shredding winds and a little rain, that by early morning turned into a lot of rain. I stayed glued to the news, to twitter, to try to find out what was happening out there. Of course the people being most affected weren’t tweeting about it.

Ben spent the night in Canaran, the sprawling tent camp slum that has mushroomed up on Route National One since the earthquake – in the past year, really – as people evicted from camps in the city or simply looking for space, for land, of their own move outwards to this publicly-owned desert that they have appropriated. If government acknowledged its existence, it would be the third largest city in Haiti.

At 1:30 am, the strongest wind yet. The roof blew off of the friend’s tarp shelter where Ben was staying. By morning, half of the tents around them had shredded.

The devastation of tent camps: this is the impact of Isaac. For the most part, the impact has been on those that already may as well be invisible.

Poor people made invisible by proclamations like the one made by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance on Saturday, that the US Ambassador and USAID disaster experts had observed "no grave humanitarian conditions" after the storm.

Poor people made invisible by the allocation of reconstruction funds – 5 star hotels instead of public housing; by the government’s relocation program, pushing them out of visible camps, out of sight; by the re-imaging of the country as a hot tourist destination, never mind the fact that most ‘locals’ can’t afford a $5 meal, much less a $50 meal.

Except in Haiti, poverty can never truly be out of sight. And a storm like this – when pictures of flooded tent camps are broadcast around the world (even if only for a few hours before they’re replaced by concern about the Republican National Convention) serve as a reminder that those people exist, and that they’re living in desperate and vulnerable conditions.

In Cite Soleil and other low-laying areas, camps flooded – some with waist-high water. So far, seven people have been reported killed in the storm. Mostly, though, people all over the city lost the tarps and tent material that have been their shelter since the earthquake two and a half years ago.  

Channels simply do not exist for the majority of people to talk to the government, to express what they want and need or to ask for help. 9 members of Camp Avik (near the old Teleco building) that tried to block the street in front of their camp, tried to make some noise to get attention and, ultimately, assistance were arrested on Saturday. The guys at Camp Avik are members of a housing rights coalition. They're organized and active in trying to claim access to what they know is their right to safe and affordable housing. They still haven’t been released.

As much as you or I, their families deserve to have roofs to shelter them from rain and windows that they can shut against 60 mph winds.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...