Let's help those who are still sleeping in open-air!

Paul G. Magloire - March 19 2010, 9:39 AM

Let's help those who are still sleeping in open-air!

(February 12, 2010

Figure 1: Paul Gustave Magloire

Yesterday evening, it rained over Port-au-Prince.

It is the opportunity to say that a misfortune never travels alone.

As a result of the earthquake which shook the country last January 12, more than one million of our brothers and sisters are sleeping under the stars, among them children, babies and expectant mothers and old men, the wounded, and amputees by the thousands, as well as the thousands of other people who were already with reduced mobility, or who were handicapped by the seism, by losing either an arm, or a leg, or who may have all their limbs totally broken or fractured.

Today they are among the homeless who have taken refuge under shaky roofs in the capital and its suburbs, as well as in the nearby towns of Gréssier, Léogane, Grand-Goâve, Petit-Goâve, and Jacmel, while receiving very little support.

If the intense rain which fell the evening of February 10 is heralding the premature arrival of the rainy season, one has to be rightfully fearful that thousands of people, among the homeless in particular, will be struck very hard by opportunist diseases like dysentery, infections of the skin. To make matters worse, one could forecast the spreading of an outbreak of malaria and pneumonia on a large scale.

It will then become the cause of another large wave of victims, in addition to those who lives were not spare soon after the quake.

Thus, we want to once again insist on the urgency to move this population towards places where it can find adequate shelters and care, precisely towards the provincial towns and as such to begin a systematic and organized decentralization process of the country.

Indeed, the task will involve moving several hundred of thousands of people.

Here are the various steps, which the government could adopt to that end, while being mindful of a fast execution schedule.

1- It is necessary to quickly put in place a National Coordination Committee made up of the Ministers of the Interior Department, of Public Health, of Justice, of Public Works, of Environment, assisted by the Secretary of State for Public safety.

This committee would have the specific mandate to take all the necessary measures to transfer the homeless from the disaster areas to the other areas that have not been affected.

The Coordination committee will ask all the following authorities to be represented, at their highest level, in order to take part in the decisions of the committee.

Invited will be members of the embassies of the main countries engaged on the ground in Haiti, the Haitian Red Cross, the various business associations of the country, the organizations of the United Nations and the OAS. The decisions adopted by the National Coordination Committee affecting the provinces will be put into execution by the departmental delegates, each one assisted by a respective committee made up of the mayors of the concerned municipalities within their specific jurisdiction.

Indeed one can set up this said Coordination Committee in less than 72 hours.

2- It would be necessary to also create a central information unit whose main role would be to divulge the various decisions that have been adopted.

The government will requisition 90 minutes of broadcast time from all the media outlets in the country.

The media outlets will be set up into a network, three times per day, for a 30 minute broadcast period in order to reveal information emanating from the central information unit.

3- The Committee must requisition throughout the 10 geographical departments of the country, in all the cities that are not affected directly by the seism, all the buildings that are not housing essential activities, (such as activities of health, safety and any other public service), in order to inventory their capability and to place them at the disposal of the National Coordination Committee.

This is a national emergency, which requires an overall mobilization and sacrifices from all of us.

4- At the same time, the Committee will have to start classifying the homeless by sorting them by family, health condition, age group, their place of origin and their place of destination.

(Our technicians in statistics and data processing can propose the manner to do this classification very quickly).

The destination points will be separated based on the card color and number, which will be assigned to each person, or their representative, who must be moved.

5- The buildings that are requisitioned within the cities targeted to welcome the displaced population will be classified to facilitate the various services that will be allocated to the people arriving in the welcoming towns.

The priority will be to find buildings able to adequately house the people and capable to be used as cafeterias and general stores offering products and services at reduced prices, and capable to be used as schools and as recreational centers.

The health care centers, just as the public service functions of the city, such as the police force and transportation system will have to be reinforced.

The homeless of the capital city will be moved according to the capabilities of the welcoming towns.

However, the homeless from the cities like Gréssier, Léogane, Grand-Goâve, Petit-Goâve and Jacmel will be relocated in housing quarters near the cities where they currently reside.

The Coordination Committee will have to choose dropping points for the assistance provided by the international aid donors, in order to make sure that the assistance reaches systematically and in sufficient quantity the people that have been displaced.

6- In the case where there would not be sufficient buildings for the housing of the newcomers, the mayor of a welcoming town will be allowed to rent rooms from families or private individuals whose houses have enough space to shelter additional people.

In certain cases, to compensate the lack of buildings, the municipality will have to offer a suitable piece of land to install container truck which will be used to accommodate the services offered to the newcomers as well as to the residents of the city, in order to facilitate the mixing of the newcomers into the welcoming community.

7- Upon the arrival of the newcomers to their respective destination city, they will have to be registered at the office of the welcoming committee of the city, set up by the mayor, the delegate representative and a representative of the newcomers group.

Each one of them will receive a temporary housing kit prepared by the services of the Haitian Red Cross and a new identification reflecting their place of origin and their place of arrival.

Each newcomer will also receive information enabling them to receive assistance adequate enough to ease their burden during this initial settlement period and to give them as well a minimum of comfort and dignity.

8- The week after their arrival in their welcoming town, each newcomer or his/her representative will have to take part in an orientation meeting where he/she will be invited to remain definitively in the welcoming community or to prepare to return to his/her place of origin, as soon as the conditions becomes favorable.

9- The people who decide to remain permanently will be trained to find a job or to open a business in their new hometown.

And those who prefer to return to their place of origin will be directed towards a temporary job according to their ability and their aptitude.

This operation will complete the emergency help phase.

In a preliminary estimate, the operation of displacement of some 500,000 homeless should last a maximum of 6 months and the cost could be around US$30 million, that is to say an average of US$600 per person.

This amount would include a support to the displaced over three months.

It is the equivalent of half the cost of US$60 million for the 200,000 tents being considered by the government, assuming US$300 on average per tent, without taking into account the cost of the problems that will inevitably ensue with the setting up of these refugee camps.

In our proposal, most of the costs will be born locally, because we will call upon the local resources.

The unions' organizations and many of the youth associations are already eager to begin with this project.

The $3 million on an average per department will represent a tremendous financial infusion which will be used to kick start the economy in the provincial towns.

During the 6 months of this operation of displacement, the efforts to rehabilitate Port-au-Prince, Gréssier, Léogane, Grand-Goâve and Petit-Goâve and Jacmel, will also be able to continue.

In the same way, it will be necessary to use this period of time to plan the construction of 3 regional capital cities, one in the Grand-North, another in the Grand-Centre, and the third in the Grand-South to offer alternatives to some of the displaced population who do not wish to return to the overpopulated conditions of Port-au-Prince.

We wish that these measures will be adopted and implemented as quickly as possible.

The Head of State, Mr. Rene Préval, has spoken about keeping the homeless close to the place of their initial residence, simply because he finds any and all measures pertaining to decentralization extremely repugnant.

He thinks that the government should instead acquire 200,000 tents and create tent cities.

In so doing, there would be so many problems with this solution that they are not worth mentioning in this brief presentation.

It is certain that, if we continue to follow the way of Mr. Préval, the country will soon become a vast refugee camp.

Moreover, we can say that the government headed by Mr. Préval has not been able so far to show that it could offer even the very minimum of sanitary services in the unplanned camps, which have sprouted on the public places in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs.

Then, several reports point out that the quantity of 200,000 tents being mentioned by Mr. Préval is not even currently available anywhere on the market.

Furthermore, our dear President does not have money to pay for these tents.

He made a request for $300 million assistance at the time of his last visit to Latin America.

But, we know that he will not have any definitive answer until the April meeting, which is scheduled to be held in the Dominican Republic.

Aren't we quite familiar with the usefulness of April fool dates?

Several scientists agree, without being able to precisely specify the day that Port-au-Prince could still be struck soon by another seism, which could be of a level higher than the one that hit us on January 12. We recognize that a misfortune never travels alone.

As such, we must prepare to avoid the worst for our compatriots.

Therefore, we must have responsible authorities to be in charge of our motherland, those who are able to take all the appropriate measures to protect people lives.

We must hope it happens before it is too late for all of us.

February 11, 2010

PAUL GUSTAVE MAGLOIRE

Former Minister of the Interior of Haiti

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