Thursday, February 17, 2005

Haiti, again

Looks like I’ll be heading back to Haiti next month. Try, anyway. Memories of the last trip, in which we drove no more than 1,000 yards to the departure terminal at the airport, are still fresh. Visiting Haiti these days is like spinning a roulette wheel. You just take your chances. Right now everything is quiet, as long as we avoid the slums. UN troops have been sweeping through there, engaging rebels. Lots of gunfire, tanks, the usual stuff.

There’s about 1,000 US troops from the Army and Navy as well in Gonaives. They’re on a three month mission to rebuild schools and provide medical care. Nice to hear our military is on a humanitarian mission. And the effort, boy is it needed. The bishop there is saying how terrible conditions are. Really, really awful still. And people seem to have forgotten about Haiti in light of the horrific tsunami disaster in Asia. Everyone is jumping on the fundraising bandwagon to help tsunami victims. Which is great, but I’m a cynic. Rock concerts, books written and their proceeds going to help victims, the intentions are wonderful.

But will the aid truly go to where it’s needed? And do most people understand how long and difficult the road to recovery is?

I’ve seen disasters, many of them, in the 11 years I’ve covered poverty in this hemisphere. Hurricane Mitch in Honduras and Nicaragua, killing thousands. Earthquakes in El Salvador. Floods. Fires. You name it. The media coverage gets everyone’s sympathies charging to the forefront. People are generous. And then the attention dies down, and they forget. They go on with their daily lives.

I only truly learned the enormous scope of how damn long it takes to recover when I visited Grenada about seven years ago. Interviewed families living in these 6’ x 6’ wood shacks supported only by the termites holding hands. They were called “Janet houses.” Government built temporary houses after Hurricane Janet swept through Grenada on Sept. 12, 1955. 500 people died.

1955. And these people were still huddling in these shacks built as “emergency” shelters. Since then another hurricane, Ivan, made a direct hit on that island. I seriously doubt the Janet houses made it through Ivan.

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