Second report from the ground, Leogane Haiti

By a Khalsa Aid worker  

This is a report, sent by a Canadian working with Khalsa Aid, a U.K.-based Sikh aid group, in Leogane, Haiti, was written sometime between February 22-25:

Canada Haiti Action Network listserve, February 25, 2010

Drove through a huge protest. We initially saw large rocks scattered all over the road and a groups of Haitians screaming. I thought it was an accident when I saw a car flipped over. It wasn't only until we drove further into the crowd that we saw people running by us with pickaxes and shovels and sticks, screaming 'REVOLUTION' in creole.

I've spoken with a few individuals with a very large NGO who have informed me that these small protests are nothing compared to what is about to come in the coming month as the rainy season falls upon Haiti. With so many Haitians without shelter, adequate drinking water (a very large percentage) and an even larger amount without regular access to food and medical care, Haitians are getting increasingly frustrated with an incompetent Aid distribution (I'll explain more further later) and without any governmental ministry to set up the appropriate conduits of exchange between Haitians communities, the aid agencies and the various government agencies in Haiti, we are seeing this frustration turn into aggression.

I've mentioned many times before that I have traveled to many communities to make assessments to find out that I was the first to arrive. This is increasingly becoming representative of the many problems facing Haitians in the areas outside of Port Au Prince. Much of the NGO's are concentrated in Port Au Prince along side much of the aid and vital supplies, if not the wealthier districts in Haiti. The poorer (most affected by the earthquake) areas of Haiti are yet to receive any aid and this is getting more and more depressing for those of us working these areas. I represent a very small NGO and the capacity to which I work is not to promise aid, only make assessments and provide statistical data which in turn can be used to convince the bigger NGO's and governmental agencies to come out to these areas to provide aid. This is becoming increasingly difficult as many of these areas have been considered 'security' issues and many NGO's refuse to travel there, and to further compound this problem, many of these NGO's that have raised tens of millions are leaving in a few weeks leaving many of us NGOs that have decided (or had planned) to stay for long term development in a very difficult position. It's emotionally draining going to communities, villages, orphanages and repeatedly hearing the anguish, anger, hunger, frustration and plight of hundreds of thousands of Haitians whose voices aren't being heard.

These UN cluster meetings (as one of the bigger NGO's logistics' coordinator rather calls them : 'cluster fuck meetings' lol) seem to be very disappointing. My associates and myself traveled to Port Au Prince to the UN compound to meet and take care of some issues with the WFP and we had attended a 'Food Cluster' meeting. The UN is NOW starting to track the regions where NGO's and various other agencies and state actors have distributed food. Many smaller NGO's at the meeting continually complained that they had no idea where the WFP (World Food Program) food supplies were and why they weren't being given access to distribute them out. I have the very same questions for regions outside of Port-Au-Prince; Leogane and Gressier for example where much of the social unrest is occurring. Once again, these areas are not receiving aid and I can't possibly be the only one going to some of these regions as the first foreign representative. This is completely ridiculous. However, it also must be understand that this earthquake decimated the UN establishment in Haiti, killing or severely injuring much of it's local staff, leaving behind very little infrastructure to deal with the relief work. Many UN officials have been brought from foreign posts - for example, the local OCHA coordinator has been flown in from Palestine. I don't' entirely blame the UN's efforts, but that is no excuse for the various larger NGO's working in Haiti.

Another issue that is worth mentioning (perhaps one of the most important) is the lack of coordination with local governmental agencies. A health cluster meeting yesterday was for the first time given space to the local Haitian Health Ministry. Angry, they complained that they are not being asked to help coordinate much of the efforts in Leogane. Though there wasn't much government capacity before, NGO's and other state and non-state actors need to help improve governmental functions and agencies, work in coordination with them and use them as conduits of change. This is not happening and it will be detrimental to Haiti in the long run.

MTI (Medical Teams International) is a great example of an NGO that IS doing this and for this reason we have fully supported their efforts and will be working along side them for the next 3-5 years to come. I suggest those of you reading to either support local NGO's and grass-roots organizations, or the bigger NGO's that are committed to help build sustainable development in Haiti that builds capacity in Haitians so that they are not dependent on foreign assistance. This is a great chance to get it right, so let's make it happen.

I also observed that the Haitian civil service were not being allowed into the bigger cluster meetings at the UN compounds. The coordination efforts have become more and more racialized with less Haitian people present. In fact, a senior coordinator for WFP also told us the very same thing. I've had no problem walking to any of the meetings or compounds granted I forgot proper authorization and ID, but Haitian civil service staff have a tougher time with Authorization and ID. It's as if the Haitian guards are taught to allow western, white looking individuals in without further scrutiny, while blacks are systematically denied.

And, I have to add; the water and sanitation problem in Haiti is very very very bad. 90 percent of the regions I have assessed in Leogan and Gressier have no access to drinking water, and whatever water they do have is severely contaminated. I'm trying to get on UNICEF's ass to fix this. I'll also be working with many WATER specific NGO's to come evaluate and build water and sanitation systems at sites we've assessed. Haiti needs proper water and sanitation or else the risk of disease is going to become very very high, along with many other problems.

Anyways, It's best I leave now. My driver is going to kill me for keeping him out so late. Poor guy. Lol. I haven't gotten into any of the emotional experiences I've been facing, but I guess that's because I'm trying to push them aside so I can carry on with my work. The orphanages are what kill me the most. I visited one where a young boy, of only a year, lost his entire family in the earthquake, and another where a young girl had lost both her legs. Yet, even more depressing is what these children suffer after every earthquake. The very same orphanage where the young girl had lost her legs, was also the scene of all 91 one children running out screaming, yelling and crying after every aftershock that hit. The horror of having to be reminded of such disaster and tragedy overwhelming. These kids need therapy along side the aid which they've yet to receive. Rebuilding Haiti is going to take years and years, but we have to move forward responsibly with the interest of the Haitian poor in mind - most of Haiti.

Good night.