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Haiti’s newsreel: more suffering…

All eyes are on Haiti again, and in a painful reminder of what mother nature is capable of, Saturday, August 14, 2021 will be remembered in the annals of Haitian history as one that may have even surpassed January 12, 2010, in such departments as the South, Nippes and Grand’Anse. It was on this fateful Saturday that an earthquake registering 7.2 on the Ritchter scale swept through the entire region, leaving behind a tale of destruction of apocalyptic proportions and helplessness and hopelessness in its path such a shock severely affected all Haitians, especially those who were already living in very precarious condition. The human to date is estimated at 1,419, with 1,133 in the South, 162 in Grand’Anse, 122 in Nippes and 2 in the Northwest departments. Though these numbers are sure to increase, some 6,900 people have been wounded, according to the interior ministry responsible for the area. Other figures available indicated that 37,312 homes were destroyed while 46,913 others sustained heavy structural damages in the 3 departments. Other public buildings such as hospitals, schools, hotels, churches, and private businesses have either been destroyed or severely damaged. More than 75,000 families have been rendered homeless in the area and the authorities are working hard to get an accurate count and to reach other victims. First responders and residents themselves are sifting through the debris to pull people out and have been helpful in reaching several victims trapped under the rubble. Health facilities are currently overwhelmed as more and more people are being brought in need of medical assistance.

Three days after the earthquake, the government has not been able to coordinate aid to victims because of the logistical nightmare to attend to all these people and their immediate needs. According to government officials, a month-long state of emergency has been declared, allowing officials to double their efforts to manage aid so as to reach most of the victims in a timely manner.  Most Ministers and other government officials will be on the ground to coordinate efforts and render assistance as needed to the general public. Rebuilding efforts will be closely monitored to prevent mismanagement of resources as occurred following the 2010 earthquake. Humanitarian agencies are working to get much needed food, water and medical supplies to the area the UN Office responsible for coordinating humanitarian affairs announced that local officials are negotiating with gangs in Port-au-Prince, especially in the Martissant neighborhood of the capital which has been on edge since early June, to seek safe passage for humanitarian convoys. This is because the southern part of the country is a hotbed for gang related violence where humanitarian workers are routinely attacked across the region.

One of the notable personalities who became early casualties of the earthquake was former Senator from the South, Gabriel Fortuné. Mr. Fortuné was also a former mayor of Cayes, parliamentarian and special delegate from Caye, who died in the debris as his hotel, Le Manguier was destroyed in the quake. There were other victims in the rubble and rescue workers struggle to pull people out of the wreckage. Besides this hotel, there was another one; Petit Pas Hotel which was destroyed, trapping most of the clients in the wreckage. Meanwhile, the main hospital is in desperate need of medical supplies and place to put the increasingly numerous victims being brought to their facility.

Meanwhile the government has decreed three days of mourning, starting on Monday in memory of the victims of the earthquake. At a press conference held in the morning at the disaster command center, the Prime Minister also announced the designation of three ministers to coordinate the relief efforts in the three main departments affected. The designation includes the Minister of Women Affairs, Sophia Loréus, will be in the South Department, the Minister of Tourism, Luz Kuria Cassandra François will be in Nippes and the Minister of the Environment, James Cadet will be in Grand’Anse, to ensure that relief efforts are being undertaken efficiently under their watch. In a special cabinet meeting held on the same day, Prime Minister Ariel Henry called for national unity for a better coordination of government efforts at nation building. This was a precursor to the Tuesday meeting that will bring together the business sector, civil society, political parties and the diaspora to form an ad hoc committee to work together with a cross-ministerial management committee to coordinate the government’s post-earthquake response efforts.

Elsewhere, the meteorological services are warning about tropical depression Grace which is barreling down towards the south, three days after the earthquake and at a time when the whole of the south is vulnerable to any natural phenomenon, given the slow pace of search and rescue efforts. A red alert warning has been announced, with strong winds and rain predicted for late Monday. Authorities from the weather service, l’Unité hydro-météorologique (UHM), have predicted that the entire country would be battered with rain, especially the south and called on people to be vigilant and follow instructions from the ministry of interior emergency services. True to form the rains pounded the country forcing rescue teams from Chile, the US and other nations to scramble to help locate residents who are still strapped under the rubble from the earthquake.

Dela Harlley

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