Haitians beginning to lose hope, and patience

With a gaggle of small children, Louis Saurel’s family huddles under a plastic tarp near the wall that borders St Pierre plaza in the Haitian capital. As with most public places in the city, the small park has been converted into an improvised camp for thousands of people taking refuge from the destruction of their neighbourhoods by Tuesday’s quake.

After almost one week, they feel abandoned to their fate. “We have lost everything. I have no money, nothing,” he said. “We can’t return home because the houses are destroyed, and the ones that haven’t collapsed are crumbling. We are facing chaos.” Next to him sat Jeanty Edrice, who until Tuesday was a neighbour in the Rue Panamericaine, and whose house is completely destroyed.

“We have nothing left, only the family. We have no choice but to live in the park for the time being,” she sighed. Both were aware that their precarious situation could be a prolonged one. There is growing concern that food and water are becoming scarce, most commerce has shut down, and the little bit of money they have is running out.

On top of that, the stream of new refugees continues unabated. Their numbers have spilled out of the park and onto the sidewalks. There were only two portable toilets in the entire zone, clearly insufficient for the growing population. The stench is omnipresent, and the unsanitary conditions carry a heightened risk of epidemic.

On a nearby street, two thin hoses provide the only running water in the area, and adult men and women line up to bathe as best they can, naked and together. There is no room for modesty under these conditions. “Nobody has come to see us, not the local authorities nor the international agencies,” said Jean Robert Casimir, who has been living on the streets with his family of 12 since Wednesday, all in a tent designed for two people.

Casimir keeps a small radio glued to his ear, anxiously awaiting any news that might alleviate the situation in the chaotic camp. He said the overwhelming sense of desperation was worrisome, because it could soon break out into violence. “If it continues like this, it will become violent. Soon, we will lose faith, very soon, and that will be the end for us,” he said.

Sourel also said that the refugees were reaching the limits of their patience, and that violence could erupt “very soon. Not within months, but days,” he warned. All hope rests on the arrival of promised international aid, which until now is but an illusion for the refugees in the park. For Casimir, the situation seems suspiciously familiar.

“We haven’t much hope, we’ve been through this before,” he said. “After (last year’s) cyclones, we waited and waited, and they told us that the aid was coming, that it was on its way, and we never saw any of it. With this earthquake, we fear the same thing will happen.”(BRecorder)

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