By Carlos Vasquez
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 15 February 2010 – When Columbus first arrived in the new world, he established his first settlement on what is today Haiti. The first university, hospital and the first cathedral in the Americas were built on this island; Española.
I was scheduled to fly to Port-Au-Prince on Sunday the 14th from the airport in Dominican Republic, after having checked my backpack I was told to gather my belongings and go back to the UNICEF office in Santo Domingo. The orders from UNICEF were for me to attend meetings and review materials for potential prefab structures.
We started the day at six am today in order to drive to Port-Au-Prince. The journey unfolds like a story that gets worse as we leave kilometers behind us.
By the time we got to Jimani on the Dominican Republic’s side, I was debriefed about the 2004 floods during which many people died in this town as well as an entire village wiped out on the Haiti side, in the village of Font Vellettes.
At the Dominican Republic’s border, we meet with government officials who tell us that more than 20 per cent of the population increased at that same village on Haiti after the earthquake. People who are leaving PaP come to this mountainous area. Rapid assessment reports show that the poverty levels are worse in this part of Haiti are worse than in places like Sudan or any Latin American country.
The only road that connects both nations is at lake level. With the first rains this life line is at risk of being lost, cutting off Haiti completely. I was able to confirm the environmental degradation first hand including what my friends Isaac and Maggie had told on Saturday night at their home in Santo Domingo; the mountain side is being excavated to build up the road that runs along the lake creating a precarious situation and potential landslides for the next rainy season.
UNICEF has established a 20 km service buffer zone between the two countries in order to provide much needed help to IDPs and existing poor communities along the border. Water, food and health are the main services being implemented and education will follow. For years all humanitarian response have focused on Port-au-Prince neglecting the conditions of thousands of others around the country. Taking a more global, inclusive or decentralized approach to the social well-being of all people is necessary this time around to improve the lives of all.
Being on the road now it seems hard to believe that Haiti was the first country to gain independence from a colonial power. In early 1800’s, Haiti won the independence war against Napoleon’s army becoming the first self determined nation in Latin America. Only the French and American Revolution pressed Haiti’s independence.
UNICEF, Education Section
Monday Feb. 15. 2010, 1:45 pm