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HAITI: The other disasters

JACMEL, 29 January 2010 (IRIN) - The colonial buildings that attracted tourists to the seaside town of Jacmel, 80km southeast of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, were among the first to collapse on 12 January.

Within seconds of the earthquake, 441 people were dead, 21,000 made homeless, and 183 schools were flattened, according to the government’s latest figures.

By 27 January the road to Port-au-Prince had still only been partially cleared, and phone communications had just been restored.

“We have been eclipsed by the media attention directed to Port-au-Prince,” Zidor Fednel, the government’s regional representative, told IRIN. Even the radio frequency on which UN-financed programmes broadcast the location of food distributions and public health warnings can still not be picked up in Jacmel.

“All this has kept us in the post-disaster shadow of Port-au-Prince,” said Jean Michel Sabbat, technical coordinator of the government’s office for civil protection in the southeast. “We may have less damage and needs than other affected areas, but the loss is still enormous if you look at the magnitude of disaster.”

NGO rush

When French firefighters trained in disaster relief arrived in Jacmel five days after the earthquake, the group’s leader, Jerome Savot, found there were few other humanitarian NGOs present. “All these NGOs went straight to Port-au-Prince. There were less here in Jacmel, so we saw more need.”

International Action Aid/ Humanitarian Firefighters from Normandy have a medical tent in the city’s Pinchinat stadium, the largest tent community holding thousands of homeless.

“There are more NGOs now, but we are still not sure what each one does,” said Savot. “If we have a case we cannot handle, we walk to each of the other tents to see if they can help.” The UN started delivering water to Pinchinat on 24 January.

Among the most common health problems in tent communities are respiratory illnesses, as a result of sleeping outdoors, infections, parasites and dehydration.

“We provide basic primary care for illnesses not necessarily linked to the earthquake,” said Dominican Red Cross volunteer doctor, Leonardo de Jesus. “But we are also getting psychological post-traumatic cases. No one comes in and says they are traumatized. They just say they have no appetite, cannot sleep, that their head hurts.”

No more room

Outside the stadium at St. Michel’s hospital, the referral hospital for southeastern Haiti, hundreds of patients lie on hospital beds under a series of white tents. Medical director, Luc Antoine, said the hospital was running of out of room.

Doctors treated Jean-Paul Erreur, 33, for knee wounds when a cement block fell on his leg. “I am done and doctors tell me I have to go home,” Erreur told IRIN. “But where do I go? I have no home. I will join my neighbours on the street.”

The hospital’s daily patient load has tripled from about 100 patients per day to 350, many of whom have left Port-au-Prince, said administrator Jean Prophete Baptichon.

Working alongside hospital health workers are volunteers from the US-based Community Coalition for Haiti, Médècins Sans Frontières and a group of Cuban doctors.

Hot meals

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been working over the past year in Jacmel, providing school lunches; it has run down its 600-ton school feeding reserve, said Jacmel’s WFP director, Daniel Baduel. “When school starts again, we will worry about school feedings. We had no choice.”

The agency estimates street cooking committees are preparing 8.5 tons of food every day for more than 20,000 people.

To feed those unemployed and homeless from the earthquake for six months and to repair buildings, including the 183 schools, the regional hospital and government offices, will cost US$380 million, according to a preliminary WFP estimate.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Migration, (IRIN) Natural Disasters, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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