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Haiti hurricane victims, in makeshift camps, bemoan aid chaos

Rickety structures made of sheet metal and scrap wood are clustered along the road to the Haitian city of Jeremie, which still hasn’t seen any aid nearly three weeks after Hurricane Matthew.

In a scene that is eerily similar to the devastation in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake, when hundreds of thousands of survivors had to cram into every available space, families are living in makeshift camps.

In one such camp on the side of the road, Dominique Pierre-Louis is trying to start a motorcycle covered in mud.

“I fixed it so I can try to earn a little money by driving a motorcycle taxi,” said the 42-year-old, who normally works as a bricklayer.

“I just want a job, I don’t need any charity. I’m a professional, I can help myself.”

Before the hurricane swept over Haiti, leaving hundreds dead, Pierre-Louis and his family lived outside Jeremie. But after days of not receiving any aid, he moved his wife and eight children to this muddy roadside camp.

In the past two weeks, convoys carrying humanitarian relief have driven by, but none has stopped.

The family is now living in a small space made of sheet metal and tarps. Pierre-Louis’s wife Dieula, who has asthma and has been ill, rests on wooden planks covered by a sheet while their children scramble naked in the mud.

– ‘Too many losses’ –

“I was in the hospital for eight days, I was better but the fever came back yesterday,” she said, her face covered in sweat. “I should go back but I can’t afford it.”

Aside from a cholera treatment center set up on the grounds of Jeremie’s partially damaged public hospital, there is no free medical care in this city, which bore the brunt of Matthew’s might.

At night, Pierre-Louis sleeps sitting up in a plastic chair, the only possession they were able to save from their home. Two of the younger children sleep on his lap.

His sick wife shares their makeshift bed with their six other children.

But Dieula doesn’t complain too much about her situation.

“The solidarity that usually binds Haitians has been ruptured — there are too many homes destroyed, too many losses. The state can’t do anything, it’s too much,” she said.

A few meters away, Filton Janvier is more angry, and refuses to accept that the international community has abandoned him.

“We’re just on the side of the road. Authorities go by, the mayor just passed by, and even the president was here. But no one came to ask us how we were doing,” the 39-year-old said, seething with rage.

“I pay my taxes, I contribute like everyone else… I don’t understand what is happening. It makes me angry because it makes me question our humanity,” he added, as he watched another group of vehicles from a non-governmental aid organization drive by.

– Empty hands –

After the main roads were again open to traffic, aid started trickling into Jeremie, but the lack of coordination between the foreign agencies has stalled its distribution to those in need.

On the city’s main street, residents spot a bit of a crowd: food and construction materials are being handed out by city hall, people say — and it’s going south.

“The cop at the entrance ordered me to back up — I did it but people were pushing me from behind. The cop hit me with his baton and I fell down,” said Rene Jean-Fritz, pointing to his bloodied knees.

“These cops did not come to help people, they just came to beat us up,” he charged, and onlookers voiced their agreement.

For Pierre-Louis, people are not looking for handouts but just need the bare minimum so they no longer have to sleep in the rain.

“I just needed two tarps to cover the damaged part of my house. I don’t need rice. They should use helicopters to give that to people in the mountains who have nothing,” he said.

Jean-Fritz, still angry, did not get anything at the aid giveaway. He got the plastic card granting him access to the distribution point the night before from a friend who had several dozen of them.

No local officials or aid group verified that those who queued up for aid were truly in need.