By Mathilde Magnier
Since the 12 January earthquake, emergency aid was centred on the Port-au-Prince area, often at the expense of rural regions close to the capital that were also very hard-hit by the disaster. At a time when everybody talks about reconstruction, emergency issues still need to be addressed.
With her hands full of dishes, a woman is trying to make her way through piles of rubble and iron pieces on the ground. She puts them down on a batch of stones, already burning hot in the morning because of the sun. It is her improvised shelf in the middle of the ruins that used to be her house.
Next to that are an old pan and some cutlery, the only things she has left from her kitchen. In between linen and clothes, a family is living on the muddy ground under a piece of cloth as shelter. Apart from that, there is nothing. Welcome to everyday life in Sou Fo.
Sou Fo is a small rural town close to Gressier, about 30km from Port-au-Prince. People have suffered a lot here in the last three months. 80 percent of the town was destroyed in the earthquake. Like the rest of the region, this town was particularly hard-hit and has left the population in desperate need.
However, despite the damage, hardly any aid is arriving on the steep hills of Sou Fo. Three months after the earthquake, in the capital everybody is talking about transition from emergency aid to reconstruction help. People in Sou Fo feel they have been forgotten.
This situation is typical for Haiti’s rural areas. They were already in a fragile position before the earthquake. In order to support the population, Caritas is distributing kitchen kits and emergency shelter material to the inhabitants of this region. Until the end of April, more than 8,000 people will have benefitted from Caritas aid.
“From the first days, the aid was centred on Port-au-Prince and its surroundings, often at the expense of rural areas. In Gressier, these has been massive damage. Help is needed urgently there so that people can rebuild their community and relaunch the local economy,” said Caritas project coordinator Peter Amhof.
Far away from the overcrowded capital Port-au-Prince, not many makeshift camps have been formed around Gressier. Here, most earthquake victims decided to remain in their houses, whatever it takes. This type of behaviour should be encouraged since there are still many people flocking to the capital, threatening first reconstruction efforts underway.
“Leave ? To go where ? And with whom ? This is my home ! I lost everything I had because of the earthquake, but this is the place I have always lived in. So I want to stay here, “ said Matthieu Mirlande. With his wife, his four children and some family members who fled from the capital, he lives in what is left of his house. He is carrying a big jute bag containing the two tarpaulins and the new mats and blankets he just received from Caritas staff. Now, he is heading home to install things.
A former builder out of employment since 12 January, Matthieu is relieved. He will now be able to improve his shelter and take down the sheets that made up the roof since the earthquake. Matthieu’s experience is typical for Sou Fo, where people are lacking even the most basic things. The situation has gotten so bad that people started to rebuild their houses by themselves despite safety issues. “Nobody else will do it for us,” said Matthieu.
In the Gressier area, people are mainly getting by thanks to neighbourly solidarity. “We are trying to cope with the situation. Whenever we are out of everything, family and friends will help us out. But it is difficult to get things, most of all water,” said Esmée Sémilienne. As usual, women and children are the most affected.
Esmée will now be able to cook “properly” for her children thanks to the cutlery, plates, cups and pans she got from Caritas. Before, she had to cook everything in the one pan she managed to save in the earthquake. However, this doesn’t solve all her problems. Esmée has no work and no husband. Alone, she is trying to support her family by “doing business” on the little road that crosses Sou Fo.
Like her, Vertilia Romulus is living on her own with her small children. Right after the earthquake, her “man” went to the South. He never came back. “I didn’t hear from him since then,” she said.
Ermite does her best to take care of her two, five and seven year old children, but she is homeless and unemployed. The fact that most schools in the regions don’t exist anymore makes things even harder for her. “Maybe there will be no aid for me, but it should at least come for them,” said the young woman, looking at her children.