Dejected survivors flood out of city to villages
Refugees flee capital as aid fails to get through
Published 22/01/2010 | 05:00
AFTER the disaster, exodus. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are clogging up Port-au-Prince's pavements, ports and bus stations, hoping to flee the ruined capital.
They are frustrated at the failure of significant quantities of aid to reach them in the city and are hoping to rebuild their shattered lives overseas or in the countryside.
The mass migration gained pace yesterday when the government began laying on free buses to transport roughly half a million refugees to camps in rural areas of Haiti undamaged by last week's earthquake.
Most of these displaced people have been sleeping under tarpaulins in parks and squares since the disaster.
Huge queues formed outside the Catholic Church of St Pierre in Petionville, where 5,000 survivors have now been living for more than a week.
Their homes are rubble, and most have lost close family members. Conditions are growing increasingly unsanitary. They have only four portable toilets between them.
"If I stay here, I have nothing. No food, no water. And there will soon be disease. So I have decided that it is not safe for my child, and I must therefore get out," said Adeline Pillarduit, who was holding a carrier bag full of her worldly goods in one arm, and her two-year-old son Alexandre in the other.
"I have been here since 4.30am, waiting for the white bus to arrive. There are now maybe 300 people here sitting with me, and only space for 50 or 60 on the bus.
"Since there is no formal queue, only people prepared to fight will be able to get on when it arrives. I could be here for days," she said.
Haiti's interior minister, Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, said yesterday that he expected 400,000 people to agree to go to tent villages across the country. The first 100,000 will go to camps of 10,000 each near the northern village of Croix-des-Bouquets.
But the prospect is unappealing to most Haitians, who know that the rainy season is due to start in April. Traditionally, the Caribbean country spends every July and August dodging destructive hurricanes.
Many of the refugees sitting on piles of baggage are hoping to avoid camps by staying with relatives. They plan to return to Port-au-Prince, one of the only places in Haiti where there is a chance of gainful employment, as soon as local businesses are back up and running.
The mass migration from Port-au-Prince is reversing a historic trend. Migration by job-seekers from the countryside meant that the city, which had a population of 400,000 some years ago, had swollen to accommodate between two and three million people before the quake.
Every day, more aid trucks can be seen in Port-au-Prince. But Medecins sans Frontieres is now warning that diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases related to poor sanitation may start to threaten lives.
Many untreated victims now face a growing risk of serious illness from tetanus, gangrene and sepsis.
Small boats are taking survivors to other destinations in Haiti; and at least one ferry, the Trois Rivieres, is carrying large numbers of people to Port Jeremie, in the south-west of Haiti. It anchors near Port-au-Prince and picks up anyone who can row out to it.
The earthquake is also expected to see an increase in immigration, legal and otherwise, to other countries in the region. (© Independent News Services)