Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's Struggles Continue

Did the Haitian government pull the plug too soon on rescue efforts, as witnessed by additional rescues of survivors from the rubble around Port au Prince more than two weeks after the deadly 7.0 quake?

I'm not sure that they can be faulted when the odds grow longer for every day after someone is trapped in the rubble without water or food (and often badly injured at that).

Much more serious is the accusation that women are getting raped in various camps that were set up by survivors amid the wreckage.
Bandits in Haiti are preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps which were set up in the capital of Port-au-Prince after the disaster.

"With the blackout that's befallen the Haitian capital, bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents," Haiti’s national police chief Mario Andresol said yesterday.

"We have more than 7,000 detainees in the streets who escaped from the National Penitentiary the evening of the earthquake... It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild."

Rachelle Dolce, who is living at a large makeshift camp on the Petionville Club Golf Course, said she thought a rape had occurred outside her tent the previous night. She said she heard men making noise and a woman struggling.

"I heard a fight outside, and I saw panties on the ground," she said. "I started to shout a lot, and they left."
The Haitian police lay blame on the fact that the prison was badly damaged and that let the prisoners escape. The ongoing security situation isn't good at all, and the need to maintain order is hampering the relief efforts. As nations curb their direct involvement, that means that the UN will be forced to shoulder an ever larger burden on security.

At the same time, the Haitian government is hoping to reopen schools next week although it isn't clear how many schools can actually reopen or how many students will be able to attend. I see it as a hopeful first step to return to a sense of normalcy.

American donations for the Haiti relief effort are ahead of the pace seen in many other disasters. The US Senate is considering legislation to write off Haiti's foreign debt, increase trade and create an infrastructure fund. The UN is also calling on nations to engage in debt relief or forgiveness to hasten the rebuilding efforts. 

The NYT has a roundup of where we stand. Of note, the US Navy has got three artificial beaches in operation to hasten the flow of containers into the country but aftershocks this past week increased the damage to one of the city's piers forestalling the ability to get it back in operation. At the same time, the US Army is working on clearing rubble from downtown Port au Prince, which is the first step in rebuilding. 

The USS Bataan has moved 1,000 pallets of food and supplies since arriving off the coast of Haiti while the USNS Comfort continues providing medical care; a volunteer on board has chronicled their experience here. More on-the-ground reports can be found here.

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