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Haiti: Caritas, “a forgotten tragedy”. Widespread hunger and devastation

The testimony of Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis after his return from a reconnaissance mission in the dioceses battered by Hurricane Matthew three weeks ago: thousands of victims, displaced persons, destroyed houses and crops, the local population on its last legs owing to lack of food and water, insufficient government assistance and international aids. Caritas Internationalis’ plan to launch a new appeal to collect 5 million and a half Euros.

The landscape is bleak and lifeless: uprooted trees fallen to the ground, dead animals, homes and churches without roofs, destroyed crops. Even birds have stopped flying, except for a few rare vultures. Heavy rainfalls followed the devastating 230km/h winds, destroying everything that was left. People are hungry. There is no more food or drinking water; the population is facing an increased risk of cholera and other diseases, especially in outdoor markets. There are thousands of victims (900 according to official estimates, but figures are expected to be much higher since most of the victims lack identification documents) amidst a dejected, forgotten population. It’s the situation of Haiti today – in the Southern districts of Grand’Anse, Nippes, those in the South-East, in the Western area, in Artibonite and in the North-West – after the passage of Hurricane Matthew three weeks ago. According to international organizations 1 million 400 thousand people are in need of food aid, 800 thousand of them are on their last legs. “Food trucks are being looted and they must be escorted by the UN Mission –said Michel Roy, Caritas Internationalis Secretary General, who just returned from a mission in Haiti -. A few days ago a ship carrying food aid had to turn back to forestall a popular revolt for food.” The Italian Bishops’ Conference has allocated 1 million Euros to provide immediate aid. A part of the sum will be devolved to the Caritas network, while the remaining amount will be given to the religious congregations in the Country. After the recognition mission Caritas Internationalis will launch a new appeal to raise 5.5 million Euros. “But I doubt we will manage to collect that sum”, Roy said with concern:

“It’s a forgotten tragedy. The local population has been abandoned.”

An apocalyptic landscape. “The scale of the damage was enormous – he added. – It brings to mind the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not to mention the floods and inundations that ensued. Floodwaters rose and swept into the main street of a town, turning it into a riverbed. In this period rains falls every day; roofs were blown off. People live in the midst of the rubble of what were once their homes, without food.”  It’s a disaster, especially in distant rural villages that totally relied on farming and breeding. Bringing food aid to those remote areas is extremely difficult.

The local population is still in choc. The Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis described a traumatized population: “During the hurricane a father saw his newborn son, that he was holding on tightly, stripped from his arms by the strong winds”. Also priests and nuns are going through difficulties. “Some nuns can no longer live in the Convent. A young priest was still in choc; he had evident signs of the trauma.”

Government assistance and international aids are insufficient. Haiti’s government intervention was scarce and inadequate. Only the “Centres d’operations d’urgences départementaux” have been activated. And it’s not enough.

International organizations’ response efforts, albeit present, do “not meet the current need”, Roy denounced.

Moreover, humanitarian aids even risk being subjected to instrumental use by local politicians. “It’s partly the fault of Haiti’s government, that is more concerned about the political situation and the elections than the common good.” Humanitarian organizations in Haiti launched an appeal asking for 56 million dollars to respond to the food needs of the population battered by the hurricane in the coming three months.

haiti1-640x428The solidarity of the dioceses. On the Catholic front Caritas Haiti immediately took action in coordination with local authorities. Internal solidarity followed suit to help the dioceses hit by the hurricane. These are: Jérémie, Nippes, Cayes, Jacmel and Port-de-Paix. Food aid packages and hygiene kits were distributed to 2,700 families (13,500 people) along with programs to raise awareness on the prevention of infectious diseases. Cardinal Chibli Langlois, bishop of Cayes, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Haiti, sent an appeal to Caritas. His diocese was one of those most severely hit by the storm that caused damages to the cathedral and swept the roofs off a number of churches. Religious celebrations take place in the open air, despite the rainfalls. The chapels that are still accessible are used as schoolrooms. “Displaced people are sheltered in large structures that proved greater stability in resisting to the heavy winds – Roy said -. Also private citizens contributed with generous gestures. Some one hundred people were still being hosted in the hotel where I was staying.” Having listened to the requests of the local Churches, Caritas now intends to help the local population resume productive activity. “People are asking for seeds and plants to start growing new crops; for boats and fishnets; for timber to rebuild the roofs of their homes; for healthcare assistance. We hope we will manage to collect the needed sums.”

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