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Refugees from 'nightmare' swamp Haitian town

US, allies discuss ways to transform Haiti in wake of quake
Montreal (AFP) Jan 24, 2010 - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and foreign ministers from a host of countries convene in Montreal Monday to hash out plans for the reconstruction of Haiti, nearly two weeks after a killer earthquake. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and officials from the United Nations will attend the emergency talks. Canada is eager to assert its role in coordinating the emergency response to the January 12 disaster, which left more than 150,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of others homeless, hungry and wounded. "Together with the government of Haiti, we need to roll up our sleeves and begin to lay the groundwork for the enormous task ahead. We must and we need to arrive at a common understanding and commitment on certain basic principles of responsibility, accountability, and long term engagement," Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, founder of the international charity Doctors Without Borders, will also participate in the six-hour, closed-door discussions. The ministers will discuss how to streamline the delivery of food, water, drugs, and medical supplies to the swelling number of people living in makeshift camps around the shattered capital of Port-au-Prince. Washington has taken a frontline role in the disaster relief effort, sending in thousands of troops and rescue teams and now anchoring hospital ships offshore to treat injured Haitians. Television and internet images of the destitute and dying - as the able-bodied search amid the tangled steel and concrete rubble of the capital - have triggered a worldwide outpouring of donations.

Donor countries wish to use the groundswell of support for Haiti as an opportunity to transform a country that has historically faced grinding poverty, political corruption and bloodshed. Diplomats have raised the possibility of a kind of Marshall Plan for the island nation, similar to the US-led postwar reconstruction of Europe, which would take decades and require a colossal commitment of resources and money. Experts have warned that hundreds of thousands of Haitians will be living off foreign aid and in temporary housing for years to come as rebuilding the country may take years. Thousands have been left disabled. In Ottawa, Cannon spoke of Canada's intention to "fully support Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive's commitment to move beyond reconstruction to rebuild a new Haiti."

The conservative government is keen to shore up political support for Canada's role in assisting Haiti as it faces growing protests at home for its decision to prorogue parliament until March while it deals with the Haiti crisis. "Prime Minister Stephen Harper is fully engaged in the humanitarian response to this devastating earthquake, and has set in motion a rapid, comprehensive and determined disaster-relief effort on behalf of the government of Canada," Cannon said. Foreign ministers and officials from Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Japan and Spain are also expected to participate in Monday's meeting, along with officials from the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, leftist regimes that criticized the presence US troops on Haiti soil, are not attending the conference. The talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a full-fledged donors conference on Haiti in the coming weeks.
by Staff Writers
Saint Marc, Haiti (AFP) Jan 25, 2010
The Haitian town of Saint Marc is sinking beneath a tide of humanity, with 10,000 refugees lodging with friends, strangers or in churches after fleeing the nightmare of the quake-hit capital.

Buses incessantly pass through the town some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Port-au-Prince, loaded with earthquake victims hoping to find food and shelter from the aftershocks of the January 12 disaster.

"My house was destroyed. We slept on the pavement near the wounded, we had to leave," says Magalie Esteverle, a 43-year-old dressmaker with three children staying with a distant cousin of her husband.

"I called my cousin and said I was ready to even sleep under a table. So we left with only the clothes on our backs."

Haitian authorities announced plans last week to evacuate up to 500,000 people from squalid conditions in Port-au-Prince and put on dozens of free buses to what it promised would be more hygienic tented camps outside the city.

But with thousands of others fleeing the capital on private buses, the mass exodus is putting a huge burden on places like Saint Marc, a town of 182,000 inhabitants which also hit by deadly floods in 2008.

Feelings of solidarity run high here. Hundreds of people have found refuge in a hotel or on reed mats installed in churches and schools. Thousands more have been put up in the houses of relatives, friends and even strangers.

They have been fed and clothed by anonymous donors who have spontaneously reached into their pockets, forgetting their own poverty and unemployment.

Hundreds more have flooded into the Saint Nicolas hospital to seek treatment for injuries after being turned away by the capital's inundated hospitals. The government says nearly 200,000 people were wounded in the quake.

"There was nowhere to stay in Port-au-Prince and nothing for us to live on," says Florence Dorfeuil, a 22-year-old student sitting at the bedside of her cousin, who is awaiting an operation on his leg.

Majot powers are working to take the pressure off the stricken capital. French Ambassador Didier Lebret told AFP that France had evacuated some 1,400 refugees to the French territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe, and France itself.

But Saint Marc is choking with the weight of refugees.

The UN World Food Programme has distributed 12 tonnes of food but it is not enough.

Familes who have accommodated up to seven people have received no extra aid and the anonymous donations are tailing off, says local civil protection administrator Constant Jean-Elie.

"We have no means of feeding the refugees, we lack everything," he says.

"Nothing has been given to help us accommodate these families -- we are obliged to rely on a local population of whom the majority does not work. It feels like we will collapse."

Magalie Estervele's cousin, a jobless widow with four children, is doing all she can.

"Sometimes we have, sometimes we don't, we share. But without help I won't be able to put them up for long," says Eva Jean, 43.

At the hospital, dozens of the wounded lie on mattresses on the floor.

Amputations and other operations are not happening quickly enough, and there are only three orthopaedic specialists and a cruel shortage of medical equipment, says hospital director Yfto Mayette.

"We don't have enough to deal with all these cases," he says.

The local authorities are coping for now, but they worry about tomorrow.

"If the refugees stay, there will be big problems. A lack of food and the increase in joblessness could provoke violence and could overwhelm our existing structures," says local administrator Jean-Elie.

The director of the hospital has similar fears for the town, which already houses refugees from a string of deadly storms almost two years ago.

"All these people who have nothing and do nothing and whom one can't help will increase social problems here," Mayette says.

In her cousin's tiny living room, Magalie Esteverle feels indebted.

"I am trying to do whatever I can to make up for it," she says. "But I'm going to stay in Saint Marc. I'll never return to Port-au-Prince, it's a nightmare."

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Haitian police count their losses, prepare for calamity
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 24, 2010
Police in the Haitian capital counted their loses and gathered their forces Sunday, preparing for a surge in crime they are certain will follow the devastating January 12 earthquake. Police leaders are still trying to determine how many officers can report for work and how many police stations are still operational. Looting is widespread in this city struggling to recover from the powerf ... read more

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