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Haiti: “1+1=3”

Days seem [waaay] longer, yet this Week went by sooo fast. earthquake has 1+1 =3.

This comment by @olidups (Olivier Dupoux) on Twitter summarises how many Haitians must feel, more than ten days after the 12 January earthquake that devastated the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas. With rescue efforts winding down (even as two more survivors were pulled from the rubble yesterday), “tent cities” being built to house thousands of now-homeless Haitians, and large-scale relief efforts underway, some are beginning to think about what the near future holds in store, how long reconstruction efforts will take, and what they will look like. Others seem concerned that official announcements from the authorities and media reports don't always add up with the situation they observe on the ground.

@troylivesay (charity worker Troy Livesay), who previously wondered whether the UN was restricting the movements of US security forces, noted on 21 January that The Marines are patrolling the streets…their curfew must have been extended.” He added:

Just passed an ambulance from the State of Qatar.The gang's all here.I hope some of these others bypass the bureacracy unlike the US and UN.

The next morning, he posted a brief eyewitness account of relief efforts:

Seeing truckloads of food and relief supplies distributing around the city and mobs trying to get at them…UN is providing security.

The people aren't dangerous – they are desperate. They fear that there won't be enough, because there never has been enough in the past.

Large crowds around all airport entries/exits-I asked a local why and was told ‘you have to look to see where the manna is falling.

Livesay also posted photos from one of Port-au-Prince's “tent cities” at his Flickr account. One shot showed men plugging in their mobile phones at a rigged-up charging station.

On the night of 21 January, @RAMhaiti (musician Richard Morse, who also runs the Hotel Oloffson) described a walk through the centre of Port-au-Prince:

Took a walk to Champ Mars tonight,saw the tents,the people,the masses upon masses.one house down another house fine.no rhyme or reason

Palace no more,Culture fine,Finance cracked,DGI(taxes)in a heap.Justice?A heap.More and more people heading to the parks.Foot traffic.

The Palace of Justice,in a heap.Is that a metaphor?American troops guarding the back of the palace which has no back walls.My 3rd occupation

He emphasised:

The Haitian people were so polite as I walked around town w/my daughter.One group of people was yelling over money but all in all,peaceful

As a well-known public figure in Haiti, issuing a prolific stream of information and commentary on Twitter since the earthquake, Morse has been quoted frequently in the international press. The travel website WorldHum has published an interview with Morse dating back to 2008, in which he says:

“When journalists stay here, I try and influence the journalists. I didn’t used to. What would happen is journalists would write stories and they’d leave,” he said. “And if the story had no bearing on reality, it would have a big impact on my life. I figured it was best if the journalist had a better idea of what was going on so I would try and lead them in the direction of what’s going on.”

True to form, Morse (often in reply to Twitter queries) has made some pointed comments about Haitian politics and the administration of relief efforts:

Which country is now officially heading the UN operation in Haiti? Is it still Brazil or has the US taken over??

WE needed new leadership in Haiti and perhaps the earthquake has obliged us.The collateral damage, a bit over the top..

The Haitian Gov./The UN/The Elite Private Sector formed a Gang whose legitimacy was addressed by the Earthquake.Collateral damage ovr th top

I'm hearing from witnesses that people cheered when the palace went down.That, in and of itself, is a very strong statement

He also wondered how long Haiti would retain the world's attention:

I've met journalists from many countries around the world in the last week. The real question;how long will this “be a story”?

US-based Haitian blogger Wadner Pierre was more explicitly critical of the foreign media:

I am overwhelmed, frustrated and even angered by what some journalists have written about Haiti since the 12 January earthquake and I cannot believe some of the images I have seen on news channels such as CNN and MSNBC. It's true that some journalists are doing their very best to give a real picture of the situation on the ground in Haiti….

But the mainstream media, especially in the United States, has focused the attention of their audiences on the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and concentrated on the efforts of the US, the richest country in the Americas, to mobilise disaster relief services.

Pierre also criticised Haitian president René Préval:

No one, it seems, is quite sure what he is doing. Some people think he is negotiating the country away to the United States. And others don't think that Préval has ever been the one leading the country; rather, they argue that he has always been a puppet of the international community.

Havana Times posted an open letter from a Guatemalan filmmaker who was in Jacmel at the time of the earthquake, disputing some of the images that have appeared in international TV coverage:

The media choose the most shocking scenes, the most morbid and most sensational ones, and then they repeat them again and again, gradually creating a completely distorted image of reality.

Troy Livesay's wife Tara, who blogs at The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog, also expressed frustration with some foreign press:

I am glad the media has given Haiti some attention and hopefully that makes people CARE and want to GIVE and ACT – but the ones that never leave the airport and report from the tarmac are just in the way and taking up valuable space and adding to the chaos. Plus, I am hearing the story is no longer getting much attention – that it has dropped to the bottom of the news cast – which is sad, because the story has only just begun.

And Chantal Laurent of The Haitian Blogger was troubled to hear a representative of the World Food Programme say that food distribution in Port-au-Prince had been scaled back because of “the lack of security”. She remarked: “folks on the ground are reporting that they have not witnessed any undue cause for concern over security issues”.

Meanwhile, others continued to concentrate on the ongoing challenge of getting food, water, and medical care to vast numbers of injured or displaced Haitians. The charity group Pwoje Espwa, based in Les Cayes, reported on its blog that a hundred orphaned children were arriving from Léogâne, and appealed for donations. Gwen Mangine, a charity worker with the Joy in Hope organisation, based in Jacmel, gave an update on relief operations there:

Over the past 6 days, we’ve accruued a good supply of food and water…. Yesterday we rented a house in an out of town location with a large wall around it and hired security guards. We began moving all of our supplies over to this house yesterday and will today begin the process of getting this out, distributed largely through local churches + organizations.

She also described a touching moment:

I am upstairs in my house right now…. Downstairs the radio is blaring (because what kind of Haitian household would you be without a blaring radio) and our kids and staff are all singing along to Ayiti Cheri [a well-known patriotic song].

For this small moment, life feels normal again.

And on Thursday night, @tbijou (Thierry Bijou) voiced a practical dilemma many Haitians face every evening, with aftershocks continuing and many standing buildings unstable: 11h18. indoor or outdoor what will it be for tonight?”

Global Voices’ Special Coverage Page on the earthquake in Haiti is here.

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