Families in Haiti share what little they have

The hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike have killed hundreds of Haitians and left hundreds of thousands without shelter, food or medical supplies. SOS Children's Villages has started an emergency relief programme to give food to those whose need is greatest.

A series of unusually violent hurricanes in August and September of this year has left Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, in a desolate state. An estimated 700 human lives have been lost due to the storms that battered the island, some only a few days apart. Many are still missing and might never be accounted for, since the floods washed many corpses out to sea. According to aid workers on the ground, at least 800,000 Haitians are in urgent need of help, since the hurricanes also took their homes, destroyed their crops and killed their livestock. Among the most disastrous news is the fact that the Artibonite valley, where 80 per cent of Haitian rice is grown, has been completely destroyed.

As Celigny Darius, the head of SOS Children's Villages Haiti reports, families who have lost their homes along with all their belongings spent up to 20 days in shelters that often consisted of little more than a roof over their heads, without water, food, sleeping mats or basic sanitation. Since many of these shelters were schools and lessons have begun again, many have gone to live with relatives or friends, which often means that up to eight people share one room. That and the lack of clean water or medical supplies makes it particularly easy for contagious diseases to spread unchecked.

While the children and staff living in the two SOS Children's Villages of Haiti at Santo and Cap Haitien are unharmed, SOS Children's Villages has started an emergency relief programme to help 50 families from the family strengthening programmes who were hit hardest by the disastrous storms. This programme provides them with basic foods such as rice, milk, beans and corn every other week for a period of two months.

In spite of the hellish conditions the thirty families at Santo and the twenty families at Cap Haitien have to suffer, they have given proof of amazing solidarity, as Mr. Darius points out: "The food staples are calculated to last exactly two weeks, until the next distribution is due. And yet, most of the families we selected as being those most severely affected by the lack of food nevertheless shared with their neighbours and closest friends. They see the supplies as being a gift from heaven, and therefore feel obliged to share the little they have."

The lack of food, shelter and even the most basic infrastructure comes at a particularly hard time for Haiti, since it coincides with the installation of a new government replacing the one that was dismissed in April of 2008. Even though a large number of Aid organisations are struggling to provide the population with basic necessities such as clothing, clean water and medical supplies, the lack of central coordination makes it extremely hard to get the goods that are needed most urgently to those who need them most urgently.

In spite of the sheer scale of the disaster and its relative visibility in the media, the world has been surprisingly slow in providing financial aid, say the spokespersons of aid organisations including the UN relief coordination office, as Reuters reports, and Mr. Darius confirms: "So far, Haitians have not even received one tenth of what they really need."