Desperation grows in quake-stricken Haiti over slow aid response

Hospitals have been incapacitated and quake survivors cry for help in the Caribbean country amid slow aid efforts after Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,000 and left 30,000 families homeless.

A man stands close to the rubble of a collapsed building in Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.
A man stands close to the rubble of a collapsed building in Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Matias Delacroix / AP)

Pressure for a coordinated response to Haiti’s deadly weekend earthquake mounted as more bodies were pulled from the rubble and the injured continued to arrive from remote areas in search of medical care.

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Aid has been slowly trickling in to help the thousands who were left homeless.

International aid workers on the ground said hospitals in the areas worst hit by Saturday’s quake are mostly incapacitated and that there is a desperate need for medical equipment.

But the government told at least one foreign organisation which has been operating in the country for nearly three decades that it did not need assistance from hundreds of its medical volunteers.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Wednesday that his administration will work to avoid “repeat history on the mismanagement and coordination of aid,” a reference to the chaos that followed the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, when the government was accused of not getting all of the money raised by donors to the people who needed it.

In a message on his Twitter account, Henry said that he “personally” will ensure that the aid gets to the victims this time around.

The Core Group, a coalition of key international diplomats from the United States and other nations that monitors Haiti, said in a statement on Wednesday that its members are “resolutely committed to working alongside national and local authorities to ensure that impacted people and areas receive adequate assistance as soon as possible.”

Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency put the number of deaths from the quake at 2,189 so far, and said more than 10,000 people were injured.

The magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged more than 12,000, leaving about 30,000 families homeless, officials said.

Schools, offices and churches also were destroyed or badly damaged.

The US Geological Survey said a preliminary analysis of satellite imagery after the earthquake revealed hundreds of landslides.

Beds with people injured by the earthquake on Saturday, at a hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti August 18, 2021.
Beds with people injured by the earthquake on Saturday, at a hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti August 18, 2021. (Henry Romero / Reuters)

Slow aid response

Tensions were growing on Wednesday over the slow pace of aid efforts.

At the airport in the southwest city of Les Cayes, one of the hardest-hit areas, throngs of people gathered outside the fence at the terminal after an aid flight arrived and crews began loading boxes into waiting trucks.

One of the members of a Haitian national police squad on hand to guard the shipments fired two warning shots to disperse a group of young men.

Angry crowds also massed at collapsed buildings in the city, demanding tarps to create temporary shelters that were needed more than ever after Tropical Storm Grace brought heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday.

One of the first food deliveries by local authorities — a couple dozen boxes of rice and pre-measured, bagged meal kits — reached a tent encampment set up in one of the poorest areas of Les Cayes, where most of the warren’s one-story, cinderblock, tin-roofed homes were damaged or destroyed by Saturday’s quake.

The quake wiped out many of the sources of food and income that many of the poor depend on for survival in Haiti, which is already struggling with the coronavirus, gang violence and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

“We don’t have anything. Even the (farm) animals are gone. They were killed by the rockslides,” said Elize Civil, 30, a farmer in the village of Fleurant, near the quake’s epicenter.

Men work on a damaged building in Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.
Men work on a damaged building in Jeremie, Haiti, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Matias Delacroix / AP)

Foreign aid ‘never helps in the long term’

Large-scale aid has not yet reached many areas, and one dilemma for donors is that pouring huge amounts of staple foods purchased abroad could, in the long run, hurt local producers.

Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at Quisqueya University, a private institution in the capital of Port-au-Prince, said the disaster will increase Haitians’ dependence on remittances from abroad and assistance from international nongovernmental groups.

“Foreign aid unfortunately never helps in the long term,” he said. “The southwest needs instead activities that can boost economic capacity for jobs and better social conditions.”

At the public hospital in L’Asile, deep in a remote stretch of countryside in the southwest, the obstetrics, pediatric and operating wing collapsed, though everyone made it out.

Despite the damage, the hospital was able to treat about 170 severely injured quake victims in improvised tents set up on the grounds of the facility.

People were arriving from isolated villages with broken arms and legs.

Hospital director Sonel Fevry said five such patients showed up Tuesday.

“We do what we can,” Fevry said.

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