In Haiti, devastation from major quake becomes worse by a tropical storm and political corruption

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Camp Perrin residents receive food from the World Food Programme (WFP) in Camp Perrin near Les Cayes, after the earthquake that took place on August 14, in Haiti. August 19, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Henry Romero.

Aftershocks are still rocking Haiti following Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake. To date, more than 2200 people are dead, thousands are injured, and tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. Reaching victims has been difficult, due in part to a tropical storm delaying search-and-rescue parties this week and gangs that have overtaken major roads. 

Monique Clesca is a pro-democracy activist in Haiti and a former United Nations official. She was in the country when the earthquake struck. 

“I couldn't believe it because I had lived through the last earthquake, which was even more catastrophic in terms of the number of dead. Paintings were shaking and the sculpture fell, so it made a real big noise,” she tells KCRW. “It just kind of brought bad memories, and nothing good can come out of it. [You’re] catatonic, and you can't believe it. While you're in it, you're saying ‘No, it can be happening.’”

She points out that although Haiti as a whole has recovered from years of natural disasters, including the 2010 earthquake, the area where Saturday's quake struck was still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  

“About 40% of [Haiti’s] population is suffering from food insecurity. … People were counting on this harvest, and the harvest has been destroyed pretty much. Water sources have dried up, even if it is temporarily, and they [wil] come back, but they will come back dirty,” she explains. “You also have the fact that there are places where five days later, no one has been there to see what the situation is. So fortunately for radio, fortunately for social media, they can reach out for help. So it really will get worse before it gets better.”

According to The Nation Contributing Editor Amy Wilentz, videos from Haiti have helped shed light on what some residents are currently experiencing.

“People are living under a plastic tarp that's filling with water, they're sobbing, the children are having fun, and everybody else is realizing what a disastrous situation it is,” she says.

Although Haiti is also still grappling with political transition since the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse, Wilentz says the situation would be just as dire if the incident hadn’t occurred.

“Yes, the Haitian people are resilient. But let's not talk about that as though that's what they need, because all that's going to happen to them is to get a sucker punch over and over again. Let's talk about that civil society that's really working hard to figure out a way out of this and to bring some kind of democratic governance into the situation, which would actually work to help the people. The Haitian people deserve better than what they're getting,” Wilentz says.

For Americans who might want to donate, Wilentz recommends organizations that have a long-time relationship with Haiti, like Partners in Health.

But there’s also need for caution when donating, due partly to concerns over the use of nearly half a billion dollars of aid that was donated in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti. 

“We shouldn't be worried because the last time around, it did not get to where it should have gotten,” Clesca says. 

She uses the example of a recent Haitian scandal where $4 billion — that was earmarked for development projects and education — was practically stolen. Clesca notes, however, that a new civil commission is working to root out government corruption. 

“Meaning what? Meaning get out these people who are corrupt. Get out these people who all they want is to hold on to power. Put in a transitional government, and a transitional government can really make sure that everybody can participate. So that the playing field is leveled, so that we can go to elections. And a government … can have as its model, as its way forward: the well being and interest of the Haitian people.”

In the meantime, Wilentz says President Joe Biden has directed USAID Administrator Samantha Power to help guide the reconstruction response, which will help deliver heavy equipment, emergency food, and search-and-rescue parties. She warns, however, of those who will use relief funds for their own personal benefit. 

“When they see relief and reconstruction funds coming into the country, [they think] how can my businesses, how can my consultancies, how can my family profit from this money? ... They speak good English. They can relate to the American rescue effort. And I think the Americans have to be very wary of the kind of parasitism between that class of people and the relief effort.” 

Credits

Guests:

  • Monique Clesca - pro-democracy activist in Haiti and former United Nations official - @moniclesca
  • Amy Wilentz - contributing editor at the Nation, journalism professor at University of California, Irvine; author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier” and “Farewell” - @amywilentz