Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cabaret Ravaged By Massive Flooding By Stephanie Debere

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Marie Agenor. Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero."]Marie Agenor. Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero.[/caption]

“I woke up when my bed started to move,” says 68-year-old Raoul Toussaint. “Water was already rushing through my room, and I was swept away until I managed to grab a tree half a kilometre away. It was 2am on Sunday morning, and I had to hang on until the water calmed down at 6am.”

As I try to imagine the terror of raging waters and darkness, Raoul surveys the foundations of his stonewalled house - all that remained when he got home. “Everything’s gone: all my savings, clothes and possessions,” he shrugs. The floods caused by Hurricane Ike swept everything away.

I meet Raoul in Cabaret, 35 km north of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Both the town’s rivers burst their banks during Ike’s onslaught. Over 60 people died. Among the heaps of debris, mud and vegetation that fill the streets, residents have found the bodies of people they don’t know, swept down from other areas. Raoul’s neighbour Sauveur Jean Louis joins us, bandaged and speaking in a hoarse whisper. His home was also swept away, his six-year-old daughter Kriscarlene killed.

Walking streets that resemble battle zones, we find Marie Agenor mopping wet mud from her porch. Her front wall was toppled by the passing torrent and she points to marks inside her house left by a metre of water and a shin-high deposit of mud.

We were sleeping when a neighbor yelled to gather our belongings and run, but there was no time. We just had to climb onto a roof in the clothes we slept in and wait until morning. The water swept everything away: our clothes, the children’s new schoolbooks. My business is ruined. I used to sell cold drinks and food, but my fridge and stock have all gone, and my money too. I don’t have any capital to restart it again.”

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero.“"]Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero.[/caption]

Shocks like this are bad enough when you have insurance and strong state support, but without either, Raoul, Marie and their communities can only rely on the kindness of friends. They’re sleeping with relatives or in nearby schools and they don’t know how they’ll rebuild their lives. And this is just a fraction of Haiti’s current hurricane damage.

I’m glad to see two Oxfam trucks arrive with a supply of 1,000 five-gallon water bottles and additional support for the municipal disaster risk reduction committee which Oxfam helped to create, train, and equip for situations such as this.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Raoul Toussaint. Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero."]Raoul Toussaint. Photo by Diana Hernandez Cordero.[/caption]

Heading out of town, we pass a large funeral crowd dressed in black, then a plantation of bananas, the area’s key crop. Through the shiny green field, the floods have cut a broad swathe of destruction, brown and flat, where only feathery stumps remain. Behind rise steep green mountains. At a casual glance, it looks as if their folds are filled with snow, but the white scars in the hillsides are bare sand.

“They’re caused by water erosion,” explains Oxfam Project Officer Olbert Nicolas. “Seventy-two per cent of Haiti’s energy needs come from charcoal. Less than two per cent of our forests remain, so rainwater races down the mountains causing flooding and washing the fertile topsoil away. ”

The hurricanes deepen Haiti’s other crisis: the devastating effects of the rise in world food prices. People literally can’t afford to eat, and the destruction of crops by Ike and his predecessors is only going to make their hunger worse.

Source: Oxfam GB - UK - AlertNet.Org

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