At 24, Mélienne has already suffered the loss of a son. It was 8:29 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, and he was in the market in the small fishing village of Pestel when the tragedy broke out. The violent earthquake magnitude 7.2 shook all of southern Haiti. When the movement stopped, Mélienne ran home. A neighbor received her with the body of her 18-month-old baby in her arms. A new disaster loomed over Haiti.
A month has passed since the earthquake and official figures register 2,248 deaths, 329 missing and more than 12,000 injured, making it the deadliest natural disaster of 2021.
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Juan Haro, a Spanish communications specialist who has been working with UNICEF for 6 years, arrived in the Caribbean country a few days after the earthquake and did not leave there until the last weekend. Thanks to him, Trade He was able to learn about Mélienne’s story and the current situation in the beaten country.
“I think that from Unicef we can pat ourselves on the back because we managed to be in less than 24 hours in the three hospitals that received, 20 out of 20 people, the injured during the first hours and we support the staff with medical supplies. As for the debt (with Haiti), more is needed, as we visit more villages we see more need and we notice that we do not have the capacity to help everyone at the same level, at the same speed, with the same number of kits. Only with the help of the international community and those who support us will we be able to respond as quickly as possible”, He comments to this newspaper.
Haro has taken his lens to countries such as Burundi, Chad or Niger, recording extreme social situations and the support provided by the agency created in 1946 by the UN to protect children and youth.
“Time doesn’t make it easier”, He confesses. “The image I have from when I first arrived? Apocalyptic, broken bones, exposed skulls”.
As if it were a biblical curse, in just five weeks Haiti – a country that had already been devastated by a violent earthquake in early 2010 – experienced the assassination of its president Jovenel Moïse, a wave of gang violence in its streets, the earthquake, the passage of Tropical Storm Grace and all this without forgetting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Humanitarian workers, as Haro explains, are not free from these risks either. “One of the first things they warn you about when you arrive is how kidnappings have increased in Port-au-Prince“, Explain.
Childhood and resilience
UNICEF estimates that more than half a million children have been affected by this earthquake, mainly due to the destruction of their schools.
“Those that have not been destroyed are in terrible condition. Right now, the biggest risk is kids becoming adults too quickly. They are children, they must play, learn, be with their family, friends, have their vaccines or go to school. But the schools are destroyed, that is a very high risk for children, a risk that ranges from malnutrition until they can fall into criminal gangs”Says Haro.
However, one of the main things he noticed during his tour of the country was that the pain used to come accompanied by an inexplicable force.
“The resilience of Haitians themselves will make this different from what they experienced in 2010. They do not wait for foreign aid to arrive, the day after the disaster they got up to start removing the rubble and trying to rebuild the country. Youth is in charge of building this new Haiti that we all want”, he says.
Haro, in addition, rescues Meliénne’s story again to illustrate the daily struggle of the survivors.
“We saw her again, we accompanied her to a boat that she was supposed to take to visit another daughter who was recovering from her injuries in the earthquake. She lost one of her three children, the youngest. Speaking with her, she told us that despite all the ordeal, trauma and depression, she still had two precious children that she had to take care of and who needed her. We have seen physical recovery, although not yet psychological or structural”, He points out.
A warm hope
Despite all the tragedy, Haro confesses to hope for the future of Haiti. The reason was as simple as a smile.
“A few days ago I was in a psychological and nutritional support center for children who were victims of the earthquake. It was the first time in the whole month that we saw children laughing, sweating, running, eating, reading, doing homework at the center. They were children from 4 to 16 years old. Morally it was a rush to see them like this, we hadn’t had a joyous moment until then. See that we are starting to build several hospitals and health centers, that we are rebuilding schools and see that the response goes a little more”, He remembers from New York, where he returned last weekend after being relieved on the field.
However, he clarifies, hope must be accompanied by international support.
“We could do more. The earthquake occurred on Saturday the 14th and on the 15th they took Kabul, in Afghanistan. I think that almost totally overshadowed the news of the tragedy in Haiti. Many thought it was yet another misfortune in Haiti, but when you review the consequences you notice that it is a humanitarian tragedy with capital letters. Help is coming in slowly and slowly. We cannot look the other way, despite what is happening in other countries, we must continue to help Haiti. We know that they are in an area full of geographical faults, so you should think about building thinking that in 10 years or less it can happen again. More can be done and more needs to be done“, Add.
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