A year after Haiti earthquake, many are still looking for food and shelter

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Les Cayes, Haiti — A powerful earthquake in southern Haiti last year killed more than 2,200 people and damaged or destroyed more than 130,000 homes, by Erline Castel and Deunod Ou The cinder block house with a tin roof rented by Dieuord Ernest is one of them.

In the days following the 7.2-magnitude quake, they collected sheets, tarpaulins and wood to build shelter for themselves and their three children. More than a year after the August 14, 2021, earthquake, the family is still living in the same makeshift tent as hundreds of others, still wondering if anyone will help them.

If recent history is any guide, few will.

The AP visited several camps around the worst-hit southern coastal city of Les Cayes, and people complained over and over that, despite repeated promises to help, no government officials had visited them.

Ernest died of prostate cancer last year while the family waited for help. So today, Castel is alone, fighting for the survival of his family, like many who have struggled to start their lives again after an earthquake.

On Thursday morning, she tried to breastfeed her 9-month-old daughter. But after a year of living off scraps in a makeshift camp, Castell ran out of milk. Little girl Woodbrain Ernest fell asleep in her failed attempt.

“I don’t have anything to offer them,” Castell said.

To make matters worse, others are victimizing earthquake victims.

In one camp, friends of the owners were trying to retake land where refugees had settled. In recent months, rioters tore down shacks, threw stones at families and tried twice to set fire to the camp.

Like several other camps, the camp floods quickly when it rains, forcing hundreds of people to flee to higher ground as they watch their belongings get wet.

“I don’t know how long I can go on like this,” said Renel Cene, 65, who lost four children in the earthquake and toiled in a nearby vetiver field, which The roots of the plant produce a fragrance for delicate use.

Families walk to fetch well water, sometimes allowing sediment to settle before drinking. Many people do not have jobs. They depend on their neighbors for the only meal of the day.

People living in the camps said they heard on the radio that local government officials had met with international leaders about their post-quake plight, but they questioned whether they would get help.

“So far, everything has been a promise,” said farmer Nicolas Willbert Ernest, 55. “I don’t know how long it will take.”

On the anniversary of the earthquake, a group of government officials held a press conference to describe the progress of the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, which began shortly after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on 7 July 2021 lead the country.

The government says 400 tonnes of beans have been planted, 10,000 metres of canals have been cleaned, 22,000 bags of fertilizer have been distributed and more than 300,000 baskets full of essential goods have been donated. It provides $100 each to vulnerable members of tens of thousands of households in the South. The state also opened a temporary bridge across the Grande-Anse River in early August.

But UNICEF warned last week that more than 250,000 children still do not have access to proper schools, and most of the 1,250 schools destroyed or damaged have yet to be rebuilt. It noted that a lack of funding and a surge in violence had delayed reconstruction efforts.

Increasingly powerful gangs have taken control of major roads from the capital Port-au-Prince to southern Haiti, undermining efforts to provide food, water and other essential supplies to those in need.

Many organizations were forced to pay bribes to avoid employees being kidnapped while driving south.

“There’s a great sense of people out there that they’re alone in this,” said Cindy Cox-Roman, CEO of HelpAGE USA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

Cassendy Charles, emergency program manager at Mercy Corps, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, estimates it could take the area five years to fully recover from the earthquake. The group is forced to use boats and planes to deliver supplies to the south, but even that is complicated because the port is located in the Cite Soleil slum, where more than 200 people are believed to have recently lost their lives in a scramble for territory by rival gangs.

“The situation is unstable,” he said.

At the same time, double-digit inflation has exacerbated poverty. Marie Dadie Durvergus, a kindergarten teacher who lives in a camp with her two children, said a bag of rice that cost 750 gourd ($6) last year now sells for 4,000 gourd ($31).

Berlin Laguerre, a former street vendor who used to sell used clothes, said the money she had saved to buy more clothes was used to support her children. Nothing to send them to school or buy them uniforms or books.

“The kids ask me, ‘Mom, when am I going back to school?’ My friends say, ‘What about me?'” she said.

On a recent morning, Laguerre and others stood in front of tent 8, where Bauzile Yvenue makes sweet coffee for neighbors in need, a system that has become the key to survival.

“I can’t do this every morning, but on the days I do, it makes me feel good to be able to share coffee with my neighbors,” said the 48-year-old mother of two.

But moments later, she said she feared her 14-year-old daughter might be raped at the camp. After a devastating earthquake in 2010 killed some 300,000 Haitians, similar camps proliferated and rapes were common.

After the latest major earthquake, Jocelin Juste became the unofficial manager of Camp De Verel. He and other self-styled leaders have handwritten dozens of letters and visited local nonprofits in an attempt to get the attention of government officials.

“We’re doing everything we can to survive,” he said.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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