Latest Stories: Haitian Quake Survivors
Haitian Quake Survivors
in the Refugee Camp
This is a portrait story of Haitian internal displaced people, IDP, of the January 12th mega earthquake that killed 230,000 people. And people in this story are those of newly created one million and 200,000 homeless in/ around Port au Prince, the capital of the country.
I started to photograph them 6 days after the quake, in Pont-Rouge, one of the biggest earthquake refugee camps, probably the biggest: the number of the IDP is tens of thousand. They were so hungry and so thirsty when I first visited the camp. Nearly everyone asked me food and water, putting their hands on stomachs and saying “Grangou,” or (I am) very hungry in English. At the same time they were very tough and resilient people. Despite their starving, they started to build their own shelter by themselves, using shabby cloths, woods, plastic bags and whatever availabe.
The tent city was getting bigger and bigger. Many new comers flocked to the open camp, due to the fear of another possible quake and the fact that as already mentioned so huge number of people lost their homes. Soon after I visited, they started to receive a certain amount of food and water by UN and NGOs, though at the beginning the distribution was very delayed and chaotic.
They, however, still face many problems. First they still need food, water and tents. Sanitation is also, or even the most critically major problem. There is virtually no functioning sanitation system in the refugee camps. The quake survivors of the Pont-Rouge released their own human waste at the open space nearby, often just next to, their shabby tents, and still now. So do other IDP in other refugee camps in the capital and other town. It results in the serious threat of disease spreading, especially as the rainy season is looming.
Security is also one of the big problems. IDP, like those in the Pont-Rouge refugee camp, have faced the gang attacks. Some survivors in the camp told me that at night gangs often came, robbed food and even raped women.
There is another big worry, as the recovery and reconstruction of Haiti in wake of the quake will be very long -- probably more than a decade or even a generation. It is about how long the new IDP have to stay in the refugee camps -- actually about the big possibility that such tent cities might become permanent. In the past, despite its pledges, the international community (as well as Haiti) failed to reconstruct and develop the country in the aftermath that the Haiti faced the crisis like in 1994 or 2004. In such failure, Haiti became poorer and the shanty towns grew bigger and bigger.
Fortunately this time, the world has paid the huge attention at Haiti’s catastrophe. UN already made its record appeal for the humanitarian aid to Haiti -- $1.44bn. However, to meet the needs of the people of Haiti and not to take the same lesson as those in the past, the international community would have to give more generous, speedy global support.