Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Haitians Seek Shelter and Survival

A recent article in the New York Times reports that the approaching rainy season in Haiti is, "The hard deadline against which Haiti’s government and relief agencies in Port-au-Prince are racing as they try to solve a paralyzing riddle: how to shelter more than a million displaced people in a densely crowded country that has no good place to put them."

According to the Lawrence Downes, writing in the Times, Haiti has three choices:
1. Let people stay in filthy, fragile settlements where no one wants to live, and pray when the hurricanes hit.
2. Build sturdy transitional housing in places like Jérémie, in the southwest, that can absorb the capital’s overflow.
3. Encourage people to return to neighborhoods that are clogged with rubble and will be for years, where the smell of death persists...
In Downes' calculation, the first choice is the worst possible option, and the second is not possible (or at least years away), leaving only the third, which he refers to as "merely absurd."

Into this ongoing disaster, profiteers continue to seek ways to exploit this devastated country. As Bill Quigley has noted, Miami is hosting a conference this week where "private military and security companies [will] showcase their services to governments and non-governmental organizations working in the earthquake devastated country."

It has also been widely reported that the makers of the famous "poison trailers" that caused such harm on the Gulf Coast after Katrina are seeking to send their trailers to Haiti. "Trailer manufacturers see Haiti's disaster as an opportunity to unload used FEMA trailers that threaten to create a glut of cheap, used trailers on the US market," reports a recent editorial in the Times-Picayune, which adds that the trailers are "not deemed an acceptable health risk for US citizens, and it's offensive to suggest that the health of Haitians matters less."

Activists in New Orleans witnessed not only the effects of the toxic trailers but also the pattern of attempts to profit disguised as aid. "Why on earth would we want to export something that we know wont work?" asks Louisiana Justice Institute co-director Tracie Washington.

Housing will certainly be a continuing need in Haiti and this situation needs real answers, not more Shock Doctrine. It was exactly for these reasons that Louisiana Justice Institute and others started the Louisiana/Haiti Sustainable Village Project.

This coalition of more than 40 disaster recovery and urban infrastructure professionals - co-convened by LJI's Jacques Morial - is working to build an emergency village in Haiti that will provide housing, infrastructure and other services that constitute communities rather than camps. With major involvement of New Orleans residents, supporters and rebuilders, the Louisiana/Haiti Sustainable Village Project is laying the foundation for a model for recovery. We have learned the lessons of Katrina, and we seek to work for the accountable reconstruction that New Orleans never had. This effort seeks to support the Haitians in leading their own recovery.

The Project has already sent 100,000 cubic tons of donated medical supplies, tents, household goods, and food to the port of Jacmel. Previous to that, they airlifted more than six tons of medical supplies to medical teams in Jacmel and La Vallee de Jacmel in Haiti and they are preparing to send a second barge and more recovery experts.

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