Hurricane Matthew: Haiti tragedy repeats itself
Aid is now a priority in the Caribbean nation, but everyone here wants to be sure not to repeat mistakes of the past.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Again I am sitting at the airport in the capital city of this Caribbean nation, waiting to catch a helicopter to southern Haiti.
I have seen the same situation repeat itself over and over again.
The tropical storms in 2008 that left 800 people dead; the earthquake in 2010 that killed hundreds of thousands of people; periodic cholera epidemics – the list goes on.
On Friday we went to Jeremie, a city of about 30,000 people that was devastated by Hurricane Matthew.
There were no rooftops left, little food and drinking water and most crops in the area have been destroyed.
We visited the local hospital were cholera victims were piling up in a room.
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Five children were in there, and one of them had died early on Friday morning.
Hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed, hundreds have died and, according to the UN, over 350,000 people are in need.
Aid is now a priority, but everyone here wants to be sure not to repeat past mistakes.
In 2010 international organisations bypassed the Haitian government.
Aid ended up in the pockets of non-Haitians.
For years, people affected continued to live in tents.
This time, as UN representative Mourad Wahba told us, “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. This time, it has to be the Haitian government that leads.”
The problem is that the Haitian government is in trouble, too.
Elections were expected to be held on October 9, but were postponed because of the situation in the south.
Elections have already been postponed four times.
Allegations of fraud last year sparked riots that put this country on edge yet again.
Michel Martelly, a pop singer who enjoyed the full support of the US administration, left the president’s office without organising elections.
His term was filled with accusations of abuse of power and corruption, which clearly benefited Haiti’s elite.
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For Senator Steven Benoit, elections cannot be postponed any longer.
“We have had trouble before. But we need a government that is legitimate, that can start improving people’s lives,” he said.
There is an interim president in place, Jocelerme Privert, who is also cautious about how the government responds to the current crises.
I have been told that the government has not called for a national emergency because, again, they don’t want to repeat what happened after 2010.
National emergency would allow uncontrolled spending and could mar the whole relief efforts with corruption. Just like it happened in the past.
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But people in Jeremie have lost hope in politicians a long time ago.
They were already suffering before the hurricane, and now, the situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months.
Haiti is poor and underdeveloped. But it’s time the international community started sharing a bit of the blame, too.
For decades, foreign powers have supported leaders who have made hardly any difference to Haitian lives.
And that’s why I will probably continue coming here and sitting at this airport for years to come. Tragedy, for this country, has become a part of daily life.