[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
26163: Voordouw: (news) Panos Follow up article on 2004 floodings (fwd)
More Than A Year After Devastating Floods, Haitians Still Look for
Conditions That Spawn Change
by Michael Deibert, Free-lance reporter
FONDS-VERETTES, Haiti, 31 August 2005 (Panos) - Below mist-shrouded
mountains largely stripped bare of trees, amidst a clutch of tarp-covered
stands pitched beside an immense field of boulder-sized rocks, Elise
44, stands with her sister and stirs a pot of boiling marinade patties,
remembering the terrible flood that swept through this small town over a
â??About midnight, the water started rushing in,â?? she says, her voice
with emotion, as a persistent drizzling rain descends into the valley where
the village of Fonds-Verettes lies. â??Our houses were swept away,
we had was swept away. Everyone was running, but they had no idea where they
would go. My daughter was sixteen years old and she drowned.â??
In the village of Thomin, a rough 30-minute drive down a trickling stream
bed from Fonds-Verettes, the story is much the same.
â??Many, many people died here,â?? says Louis Cantel, a 67-year-old farmer,
he stands surveying a field of corn cut through at various points by a
similar violent swath of rocks and stones, deposited as the waters swept by
2004. â??From here all the way to the frontier, those who didnâ??t die,
goats, cows and chickens were all washed away.â??
The rains of May 2004 in this remote, mountainous region where Haiti
straddles the Dominican Republic, killed over 900 people in the two
the vast majority of them Haitian peasants caught asleep in their shacks or
market women who worked the two border crossings at the frontier.
Though subsistence farming forms the backbone of the lives of Haiti's
rural majority, one only needs to take a look at the imposing hills
surrounding Fonds-Verettes, green and brown, but nearly devoid of trees, to
the dire environmental problems confronting the country as it tries to feed
its 8 million people.
â??We have a serious environmental crisis in the country, for sure, but one
with several causes,â?? says Camille Chalmers, director of the Plateforme
HaÃ¯tienne de Plaidoyer pour un DÃ©veloppement Alternatif (Haitian Platform
Advocate Alternative Development, or PAPDA), an organization which promotes
grassroots developmental initiatives on behalf of Haitiâ??s poor.
â??But the first cause is misery, people are born here with a lot of
desperation and their sole source of liquidity are the trees.â??
Over the past 50 years, 90 percent of Haitiâ??s tree cover has been
for charcoal and to make room for farming, with the resulting erosion
destroying two-thirds of the countryâ??s arable farmland. With little left
the topsoil when the rains fall - often torrentially after prolonged spells
with no precipitation at all - it rushes in torrents down the mountains,
gullies and carrying crops and seeds along with it, sweeping vital minerals
into the countryâ??s rivers to be deposited, uselessly, in the sea.
Though these conditions have made the valleys set between the steep hills
the Caribbean nationâ??s countryside prone to flash floods (similar flooding
around the northern city of Gonaives killed some 3,000 last September),
residents say they have little choice but to remain where they are.
â??Itâ??s dangerous to live here, because we know that the water could
come back,â?? says Thomin farmer Gerard Pierre Paul, 40, as he eyes the
from beneath a straw peasantâ??s hat. â??But we donâ??t have any money to
houses on top of the mountains.â??
Haitiâ??s tumultuous political situation - which saw the ouster of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide amid an armed rebellion and street protests against
rule in February 2004 - has repeatedly, scuttled any efforts at
reforestation or other programs to help people in villages like
Fonds-Verettes. The rate
of hunger in the country is now ranked as the worldâ??s third highest,
surpassed by only Somalia and Afghanistan, and the countryâ??s literacy
â??Haiti is a country thatâ??s in chronic crisis, and itâ??s a low-boil
so you have any major incident, whether itâ??s a natural disaster or a
socio-political one, and things go under very quickly.
"For the people who suffer most, itâ??s been a very rough year,â?? says Abby
Maxman, Haiti country director for the aid organization â??CAREâ??,
the groupâ??s headquarters in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
An interim government headed by President Boniface Alexandre and Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue took power in Haiti after Aristideâ??s departure.
beset by an armed urban campaign of violence against police and civilians
launched by Aristide-aligned street gangs in the capital, the
largely appeared to be too busy trying to put out political fires and cling
power until legislative and presidential elections this November, to spend
much time on issues such as environmental degradation and land reform.
â??There needs to be a serious and sustained investment in Haiti countrywide
by the international community to insure that we just donâ??t come here to
respond to an acute crisis, because itâ??s the low-level crisis that keeps
unstable,â?? says Maxman. â??We canâ??t just look at the elections as if
end game. Thatâ??s the beginning of it, of the real process for getting
on a track for development.â??
The problem of the tenuous existence of Haitiâ??s rural poor is further
complicated by the fact that governments based in Port-au-Prince, usually a
entity for peasants living hours away on rumbling roads, have often viewed
any kind of organizing by the peasant masses with suspicion if not outright
hostility, and have responded in kind.
In the 1950's, the military ruler Paul Magloire displaced thousands of
peasants to build the Peligre hydroelectric dam near the Dominican border,
those evicted, like the people of Fonds-Verettes, from their land, never
of the electricity the dam was supposed to produce. A few years later, the
dictator Francois Duvalier formed the Volontaires de la SÃ©curitÃ© Nationale
(VSN) militia, which became popularly known as the Tontons Macoutes after a
Kreyol expression (the name translated as â??uncle knapsackâ??) for a
part to keep an eye on the restless provinces.
In 2002 Aristide, in contrast to the agrarian reform policy of his
predecessor, Rene Preval , who governed from 1996-2001, bulldozed some of
productive farmland on the green and fertile Maribaroux Plain in the
northeast of the country, to enable the Dominican Grupo M company to create
tradeâ?? zone. In practice this meant that workers were assembling Levi
from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, having a single 45 minute break to
lunch and use the bathroom. Compensation was 432 Haitian Gourdes (around
$12) per week and unions were not permitted.
But PAPDAâ??s Camille Chalmers, for one, refuses to give up hope that
s environmental degradation is irreversible. PAPDA itself was formed in
in response and opposition to a clutch of economic reforms - including
trade liberalization, privatization of key state enterprises and financial
deregulation - that the first Aristide government agreed to, in order to
facilitate his return from exile after being ousted for three years by a
coup. Growing up in such an environment has made the group, like Haitiâ??s
peasants, no stranger to overcoming adversity.
â??We need to have a system of cooperation between the peasants and people
the cities to address the planting of trees and the use of charcoal,â??
Chalmers says. â??We need an aggressive strategy of cooperation to plant
trees and an
administrative system that will make that happen.â??
Meanwhile, in Fond-Verettes, a steady rain is falling, and the market women
pull underneath their fragile shelter.
â??Itâ??s not just the floods only,â?? says Pastor Destine Charles, a 34
Fonds-Verettes native who has formed an organization, Kote Pa-M (â??Where is
Mine?â?? in Kreyol), to help alleviate poverty and unsafe living conditions
those in the area. The road near the market stands has now turned into a
steady gurgling stream and the clouds have descended low over the valley.
â??People donâ??t have houses, access to water, nor hospitals. We have a lot
children that donâ??t have access to schools. We want to ameliorate our
situation but we need help.â??
----- End forwarded message -----