Trip to Haiti in March 2010

March 29, 2010 at 6:19 pm 1 comment

Below you’ll find some words and photos about a trip to Haiti I took from March 12th to March 19th.

I took a trip to Haiti about a week ago to work on a survey to assess the impact of the earthquake and explore some business ventures. The main project that I worked on was considering conducting a survey using cell phones. As you may know, there is a high rate of cell phone penetration at the household level in Haiti. I will let you know how the project is progressing.

My personal impression of the situation in Haiti is that the greatest problem right now is housing.  There is clearly a lack of adequate housing. The tents and cabins in many cases are flimsy and they are placed on the ground. I have seen tents that are overcrowded, housing more people than they were meant for. Of course, there are many people who are only living in makeshift tents that are not providing much protection against the elements. In the camps, I feel that more could be done to build common facilities such as eating areas, latrines and showers. In a small camp that we saw, there was only one latrine for 300 to 400 people.

It would only take a tropical storm or hurricane level I to create a lot of damage. My first reaction was where is the money that was donated? Is it not possible to make sure that every survivor has a tent?  You would think that it would be straightforward for whoever (or whichever organization) is coordinating the relief efforts in a phase I effort to distribute tents while simultaneously working on a phase II long term housing solution. Unless something is done about the housing situation, I fear that a lot of people will die. Also, I would not rule out the possibility of a major disease outbreak. I heard rumors from the head of a small US-based NGO that the US was planning after April to shift responsibilities for the relief efforts to the UN so that they would not take the blame for any problems.

 With regards to security, I was warned not to stay out late at night and frankly I had no business to take care of outside of normal duty hours. Although, one day I was outside in an unknown area where it was pitch black around 8:30 p.m. but at no point did I fear for my security. I think there is some hype and exaggeration on the part of the media about the petit crimes and violence against women. There are some areas in Port-au-Prince that are fairly calm. I believe that the week I was in Haiti, there were two reported incidents involving shooting and I think one of these incidents resulted in two deaths. As a point of reference, in Charlotte with half a million people there are more than 7,000 violent crimes (about 19 per day);  visit Neighborhood Scout to learn more. The point is that there are violent crimes in Haiti but frankly I think you can make the point that these crimes (at least the ones reported) are not any higher than those in major US cities.  If anything, I can guarantee you based on my experience that just because you’re from the Diaspora, people are not lurching around everywhere waiting to ambush you to get your money.

I found out people are holding out pretty well. If you go to the local market, supermarket or other places of commerce it seems that people are going about their business normally. You can truly see how resilient the Haitian population is. I was very encouraged by seeing spontaneous leadership that has emerged in some areas. For example, we went to a camp in Canape Vert that was created by an organization called AVIC (Association des Victimes du Canape Vert). They set-up the camp themselves, have personnel assigned to security, health and nutrition.

I did witness the unfortunate situation of the rich getting richer. New cars are selling like “tankou patat cho” (hot potatoes), and it’s hard to find a hotel room.  When you do be ready to pay minimum of $100 room. I was told that my hotel room used to rent for $50 prior to the earthquake. It’s supposed to be a “four star” Haitian hotel according to some descriptions but it would be a one star here in America.  If you’re lucky to find a rental car, be ready to spend about $120 per day (yes, that’s US dollars). For a big jeep which comes in handy in Haiti, you’re looking at $250 per day.  I had to settle for a used small SUV (Hyundai) that had scratches all over for $125 per day after a lot of haggling. The rental car companies have contracts with NGOs that are renting a bunch of cars from them. In the hotel, a water bottle or soda cost $3 and beer is $4. Lunch or dinner in the hotel where I was staying would set you back $16 (nothing fancy at all; whenever I could I ate outside). So as you can see, there is an imbalance in who’s making money and who’s still at a loss.

I do agree with the notion that many Haitian entrepreneurs don’t understand that you need to provide “value” commensurate with the amount of money that you are asking for your goods or services. During a conversation, a local remarked something like “these hotel owners are paying employees in gourdes and they are charging the guest in dollars. They’re making more money but they’re not giving a higher salary. They’re inviting a revolt…”. With that said, as I have stated in many occasions, I don’t think that the best way to get these guys to play fair is to tax them to death. They’ll just go across the border to Santo Domingo. What’s a better way? Bring more jobs in the country, create an environment where Haitian business leaders have to compete for these workers!

 You can see pictures from my trip on the SciMetrika Facebook page. While you are visiting our page, I hope that you will become a fan.

Entry filed under: Haiti. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Danilo Francois  |  March 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Beautifully written. I was also born and raised in Haiti and moved to the U.S at age 12 after my older brother was brutally murdered in P-au-P. I am now 23 educated and working for a great company; all things i wish were made possible for others in my homeland.

    Like

    Reply

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