Water and fuel in Port-au-Prince are the new currency. It is what everyone is scrambling to get. “Water, water,” say Haitians as they see aid workers leave the guarded gates of the UN peace-keeping base. Petrol is another sought after commodity. Haitians holding jerry cans and plastic bottles form mile-long queues at petrol stations every day. The US military is shipping in its own fuel. Ten days after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean island, which killed some 75,000 people and injured 200,000, aid is only just beginning to get through. Water tankers and aid trucks flanked by US peace-keeping troops can now be seen in the streets.
Distributing aid from the neighbouring Dominican Republic by road and by cargo planes descending on the heavily congested runway at Port-au-Prince is a logistical nightmare.
The myriad of non-governmental organisations, some 500 aid agencies, from Oxfam to Scientologist groups, the US military, the United Nations and Haitian officials have only just started to coordinate their operations and pool resources together. Haitians don’t understand why the aid they see flowing in plane after plane and the helicopters swirling constantly above the capital are not distributing aid as quickly as they need it. “SOS. We need help here,” is a common sign seen on the capital’s streets. The escape of over 1,000 prisoners from the main state prison in Port-au-Prince shortly after the earthquake struck is another major concern.
Trade is picking up on the streets and some banks have opened. Women sell fizzy drinks, crackers, plantain and cooking oil at prices that most people can’t afford.
Over 300,000 Haitians have lost their homes and are living in tented cities that have sprung up around the presidential palace and across the capital’s parks, roads and pavements. The homeless use towels, plastic sheeting and carpets as cover from the sun and hang their washing in the branches of trees. Families try to keep a semblance of normal life. People wash in the streets and children play with balls, while coffins roll past. Faint aftershocks can still be felt nearly every day. Crowds of men gather outside the entrance of the airport and UN base in the hope of getting jobs as fixers, runners, or drivers with the world’s media crew and aid agencies. Others converge outside the gates of the US, Dominican Republic and Canadian embassies, hoping to get a visa out, as soldiers push them back.
Search and rescue teams are packing up their equipment and dismantling their tents. Their work is done here – over 50 teams pulled 121 people from the rubble.
At night there is an unofficial curfew. Sometimes gunshots can be heard. The city remains in darkness accept for the few lights flickering on the city’s hills where rich Haitians live.