Letter from Haiti: Looting? What Looting?

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 3:40 PM PST

A friend of mine (and MoJo board member) is in Haiti, where his company is bringing emergency supplies. He's sending me dispatches of what's happening on the ground from his vantage point. Read the first series of his accounts here and the second here.


Day Three in Haiti. Morning started as did the day before, waiting. Part of that is probably due to the fact that we are up with the sun, just prior to 6am. Better spirits prevail though, as sat phones are proving much more reliable, we have our Emergency Health Kit (EHK), roughly 400lbs —according to the manifest—of WHO pre-packaged medical supplies. We've also noticed other EHKs, with their distinctive banded color coding, coming in as well.

By 9am we learned that our other party will be arriving later this evening and that another EHK is enroute. We've also learned that our partner on the medical side, International Medical Corp (IMC), will be arriving shortly to pick up supplies. We've secured an SUV, a left over rental from Channel 10 News out of Miami. Our contacts from the World Food Program have also provided us with a driver, Edward, who is the driver and security for the operations director of the airport.

IMC showed up relatively on time with two trucks, which we loaded and brought the bulk of the health kits to their makeshift warehouse, an operational bakery just east of the center of the city. In a sign of the need for ingenuity, after another truck proved too big to make it through the gates of the bakery, some local kids helped chipped away at the entrance with hammers until the truck was able to make the corner.
 
After the delivery, the baker was gracious enough to offer us fresh bread. While the rolls were good, our intake was limited as we have now taken to eating MREs, which, based on calorie content, are clearly designed to feed extremely active young men and women. I'm neither of those so let's just say I'll have to reset my New Years resolutions.

From there we travelled to the main hospital in the center of town. It was here that the complexion of the trip changed dramatically. Prior to heading through the center of town, we were primarily on its perimeter, and mostly on the tarmac. We'd seen a bit of the destruction to both the infrastructure and to human life but I don't think any of us were prepared for what followed.

Despite our being encamped with the media we have not seen any of the footage on TV since Wednesday or Thursday. We've been able to read some of the stories on line and it is fairly easy to pick up what angle the media is pushing based on the questions they ask us, and frankly, it had made us, or at least me, somewhat sceptical of their reporting. For example I believe (in fact we know because we've done some if it) that aid is actually getting dispersed and we all think (as do many of the aid providers) that the reports of looting and of convoys getting jumped are exaggerated. I'm sure there are incidents but I am also sure they are isolated.

This doesn't mean that we don't take real precautions—we have security when we travel outside of the tarmac and we travel in groups or mini convoys. But our trip out today showed numerous instances of water tankers dispersing fresh water to long lines of people carrying their 5 gallon buckets. And in every instance people were orderly and waiting patiently. Granted this was a very small subsegment and we were only in Port au Prince but still, it was different than what we had been led to expect.

In cutting through town, often on back roads because many of the major arteries are impassable, the scale of the devastation truly hit  home. Concrete, the building material of choice here, homes and buildings too numerous to count, are completely demolished. Some reduced to complete rubble, some knocked off of their foundation with a wall or two missing, some pancaked as if you took the support beams out from a parking garage —each floor clearly distinguishable with no space between. It goes without saying that there would be no way to survive that. And this scene repeats itself over and over again. Yet, there are some areas, that are relatively untouched, which only brings home the arbitrary nature of it all.

The path through the city takes us past the governmental section of town, which is in ruins. From the capital or palace, to the central church, to all of the official government buildings. All completely gone or so severely damaged that they will have to be bulldozed. Still this does not prepare us for the scene at the central hospital. It was grim. The smell of the dead and the dying hung in the air like humidity. I'm not trying to be clever with words, that was precisely the sensation. The morgue was down the street and we were told, overfilled. When patients would die they would be brought out of the hospital and walked down the street and placed on the sidewalk. Not out of inhumanity but out of necessity. Needless to say, the situation inside the hospital was similarly desperate.

The first box of meds we brought in was opened on the spot and quickly utilized, literally as we were unloading more. Which, while rewarding, only brought home the fact that despite all the efforts we had made to get these medical kits here, the magnitude of the need would mean that we'd only be scratching the surface. An important scratch I realize, and one that will hopefully be replicated a thousand times over, by other organizations and by other governments.

I don't want to end on a sour note, because there were some tremendous positives to the day. First of all, this first batch of medical assistance is, according to the WHO, which put the kits together, supposed to supply the basic medical needs for 10,000 people for 90 days. And we are expecting another shipment tomorrow.

And all is not despair. There still is a sense of hope here. You can see it in the eyes of a little girl who breaks out in a smile when you catch her staring at you. You can feel it from the young street vendor who gives you a grin and a thumbs up when you pass by in a car and, most poignant for me, the wink you receive from a woman lying in a hospital cot as you're carrying a box of supplies to her doctor. 

There is much more to write but it is late. The other party has arrived and brought tents, which we've pitched on the grass near the search and rescue teams. This should make for a more restful sleep, something I should get some of, for we have an early start again in the morning.
 

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