EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI: The city resembles an African refugee camp

by Simone Winneg/ Ruth Bücker, 2010/01/28

After two weeks of assisting the humedica teams in Haiti and coordinating their work, Simone Winneg (Kaufbeuren) is still distressed by the extent of the disaster. She wrote down her feelings and thoughts in the following report.

„You actually think that almost two weeks after the quake, the shock would somehow wear off. Today, it was the first time that I drove through the most severely damaged districts of Port-au-Prince and I was soon disabused of that notion.

Living among ruins, people are trying to restore something like normality to their lives. Foto: humedica/Judith Kühl

After the first days, I had thought that it wouldn’t stay that bad and that in some way everything would return to normal. In our clinic, life takes its course and we have got into a kind of routine. People in the streets have resumed their activities, taxis and busses are running again and communication is improving, though you still can’t rely on it.

Yet today, it still took my breath away to see the unimaginable, tremendous damage again. We passed many areas where once houses had stood and where now nothing is left but huge piles of rubble.

Was sich darunter verbirgt, wie viele zerstörte Existenzen unter den Trümmern begraben liegen, können wir nur erahnen. Vereinzelt sieht man aber auch noch Menschen in den Trümmern stehen, die noch nach Überlebenden suchen.

Officially, the search for survivors has been called off by the government. The likelihood of still finding people still alive is too small. The hope of recovering more people is gone.

The future of the children of Port-au-Prince is uncertain. Foto: humedica/ Judith Kühl

Sadness comes over me when I think of the children and parents who have lost all their belongings and maybe even their whole family. I remember many children whom we have treated in our hospital and who had been accompanied there by an aunt or uncle since their parents had died in the quake.

There is little open space between the rubble. Tarps have been tied up on every single square meter, where homeless people now find shelter. The sight of the city doesn’t remind you of the capital of a Caribbean island nation but rather makes you think of an African refugee camp.

For these thousands of people, distributions of food and water are the only possibility to survive. They are living together in extremely confined spaces and when, like today, I am walking across one of these camps, questions that have been going through my mind all the time are plaguing me even more:

Millions of people have been affected by the consequences of the main quake and its aftershocks. Foto: humedica

What will come next? What might be going through the mind of a 12-year-old boy who is living in such a camp now and has just lost his home and all his belongings? Little Benoit tells me in perfect French that he is living here now, together with his mum, because their house was destroyed in the quake.

He is in 5th grade at a secondary school and is looking forward to the beginning of the term. When this will be, however, is still written in the stars. His expression is not one of sadness, nor suffering; he rather radiates placid contentment.

I wonder whether he has understood the situation he is in. Might he even understand it so clearly that he is just happy to be alive? But what will come next for him? What will come after the first, great shock is over? What will happen when the first wave of aid efforts will be over, when the emergency relief teams will have left the country and active humanitarian aid will be withdrawn?

Half of the city is in ruins. And most of the buildings that are still standing are in such a bad condition that they will probably have to be demolished. While I am crossing the town, one thought keeps going through my mind: what will happen with all those ruins? Where can all those people go who have lost their homes?

Tents and emergency shelters may be sufficient for the moment, but at some point people will have to live somewhere else – but where? Their houses don’t exist any more and the places where they once stood are covered with rubble, stones, damaged cars, furniture and probably still dead bodies below the rubble.

The broken leg of this little girl will heal over time. But what will come next? Foto: humedica/ Dieter Schmidt

In such moments, you painfully become aware of the fragility of everything that shapes our life: after 30 seconds only, all that had been built up over decades, is destroyed.

People are standing on the edge of the abyss and have lost everything. Something that only lasted for seconds will entail years of reconstruction works. 30 seconds in which the ground was shaking and thereby shaking and destroying the foundations of life of so many people in Haiti. This thought still chokes me up, even after having spent two weeks in the island nation. "

Dear friends and supporters, please help us to support people in Haiti through sustainable long-term aid by making a donation to the following account:
       humedica e.V.
       Donation reference „Earthquake Haiti
       Account 47 47
       Bank code 734 500 00
       Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Please also donate online. Thank you very much.

Many of the children will have to grow up as orphans. Foto: humedica/ Judith Kühl

The humedica relief efforts in Haiti are carried out in close cooperation with Kindernothilfe (Duisburg), World Vision (Friedrichsdorf) and Bild hilft - Ein Herz für Kinder (Hamburg) . Moreover, we are receiving support from AIR BERLIN GROUP (Berlin), GAiN Germany e. V. (Gießen), Skandinavische Kindermission, hoffnungszeichen e. V. (Singen), Apotheker ohne Grenzen Deutschland e. V., Deutsches Institut für Katastrophenmedizin (Tübingen) and last but not least by Apotheker helfen - Hilfswerk der Bayerischen Apotheker (Munich). Again, at this point, humedica wants to express its gratitude for any kind of support and the excellent cooperation.

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