Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cleaning up a neighourhood

This was video I took - using, for the first time, a tiny hand-held flip camera. It can be a bit shaky if you dont hold it really really steady; but for web purposes, its actually pretty good.

This was taken in Baillergeau neighbourhood, Carrefour Feuille suburb in Port-au-Prince, the same place I blogged about yesterday.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

New life in a shattered community

Less than two days after the earthquake which devastated Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Marguerite Ulysse gave birth to a baby girl, Neika.

The nearest hospital was destroyed. Marguerite’s home had collapsed. The family had nothing with them. So she gave birth at night on the grounds of what was the neighbourhood footpall pitch, which now serves as a camp for families who’ve lost their homes.

“My daughter is a blessing from God. We lost everything. But as long as God can help us, I know it will be OK”, she said, holding her young daughter in her arms.

“My hope is that we can get some help from the international community. We don’t have anything at all. Nothing. And now my daughter has a cold but we cannot get any medicine.”

Marguerite and her family share a small makeshift tin shack on the football field with nearly 30 others. More than a thousand others are also camped out around them.

Camp manager, Widelson Pierre-Louis, told me that more than a thousand people died in the neighbourhood of Baillergeau, in Carrefour Feuille suburb, and that 99% of homes, more than 2,000 buildings, were completely destroyed.

“Only one house is left in this area - mine”, he said, gesturing down the narrow mountain road which is lined with collapsed houses everywhere you look. While Widelson’s single-story home still stands, there are cracks in the walls – some caused by neighbouring houses coming down; and the staircase leading up to the rooftop is full of building rubble.

It’s one of the most devastated communities I’ve visited in the last two weeks. Densely packed, it’s also an extremely poor neighbourhood. Around 85% of the community is unemployed; and gang violence has been a problem.

The needs are evident. Clean water is being distributed thanks to aid agencies; and latrines are being installed.

Oxfam worked in the neighbourhood before the quake, helping people access food when prices sky-rocketted. It has now begun a new project this week – paying community members to start cleaning up the area; removing rubbish and waste.

The cash-for-work programmes mean that not only do communities begin to improve their living conditions, but people can earn desperately – needed money so they can buy food and other

It can boost a local economy and the money helps those who need it most. People like Marguerite, who struggles every day and is praying for a brighter future for her new-born baby girl.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Washing away the smell of death

It was a relief to read the sign on the wall: no dead bodies after 3.30 pm. My watch showed it was 4pm. Thankfully, when I poked my head into the morgue at the Hôpital Universitē de l’Ētat de Haiti, also known as the General Hospital, the room was empty.

Outside, though, the ground was grimly sticky underfoot – a reminder of how many bodies had been taken to the public morgue for disposal since the earthquake that struck Haiti nearly two weeks ago.

I’d come to the public hospital, one of the largest in Haiti, to look at the work Oxfam had been doing there. My colleague, Karine Deniel, a public health specialist, focussing on preparedness and emergency response work, had been called to the hospital the week before.

She had been visibly shocked by what she saw: the hospital was packed with more than 1,000 patients, many of whom were surgery cases. There was no running water and no electricity.

Outside the morgue, she said, piles of bodies were laid out covered with flies. There was no water close by for doctors to make plaster casts for those with broken limbs; and water she saw in a bucket used to mop the floor was black. “It smelled bad; it smelt of death”, she said.

The morgue
Oxfam installed a 5,000 litre water bladder in the hospital, and also trucked water to the site so that soiled surgery clothes and bedding could be washed, the kitchen could re-open, and workers in the morgue could wash down the floors, and lessen the putrefying sickly smell of corpses.

water bladder

“Oxfam has helped”, said Hencia Josena, one of the laundrywomen. “Before we had no water, no soap.”

Hencia Josena

Staff told me nothing could be washed in the hospital after the earthquake struck until Oxfam trucked in water more than a week later. “Before Oxfam came it was a mess”, said laundry operator, Jean-Robert Deus. “In the surgery room, doctors had blood stains over their clothes.”

Many patients still remain outside the main hospital buildings, many of which were badly destroyed, being treated in tents. They’re scared to go indoors, for fear of after-shocks.

The dedication of staff working there both impressed and humbled me. From the laundry washers, to the kitchen staff, to the steady stream of volunteer medics like George Williams, from New York City, who works in the triage area.

“As bad as things are, this is the best humanitarian effort that I have ever seen”, he told me, also praising the “phenomenal” Haitian doctors he had worked with. “It’s the spirit, the humanitarian effort reaching out from all over the world.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


One of the sites in Haiti we are working in is at Petion-ville Club - a former golf course, now a huge camp housing families displaced by the earthquake.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

I was doing a live television interview earlier this week with Canadian television at 6am when there was a very strong aftershock in Haiti - a week after the big quake.

video of Caroline Live on CTV news (canada) as aftershock is felt from voice project on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

People queuing at an Oxfam distribution point

I've been in Haiti for just over a week, part of our emergency response there after a devastating earthquake which has killed an estimated 200,000 and affected as many as 3 million people.

its been incredibly challenging providing aid to people where its most needed: all kinds of problems: phone lines/internet down; blocked roads; collapsed buildings; lack of fuel.

But a week on, we are targetting over 80,000 with clean drinking water, sanitation, shelter, and about to start some cash-for-work programmes, giving people money or food in return for working on programmes eg clearing rubbish, rehabilitating markets etc.

Follow my updates on Twitter @carooxfam

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rescuing the peace in southern Sudan

Finding enough food to have one meal a day is proving a daily challenge for 45 year-old Rebecca Konjo.

The mother-of-thirteen is hunting for wild grass to eat with three of her young children, collecting plants in metal pans.

“We should not have problems, because we are in peace”, she says. “But we have no food and the raiders destroyed everything. Where can we go? What can the government do? We are with God. We just pray that peace will come”.

Rebecca and around 4,000 others living in her village in Lakes State, southern Sudan, were forced to flee for their lives following two attacks earlier this year by a rival tribe. At least five people were killed.

Families moved back to their homes in July after the government installed a visible security presence. Rebecca returned to find her house completely looted, her 11 chickens and 10 goats stolen and her crops ruined.

“All our crops – sorghum, ground nuts, and sesame – suffered”, she said. “We couldn’t cultivate normally. Everything was lost. Everything was destroyed. What could we do? We have to stay here and collect wild fruit in the bush.”

Southern Sudan has seen an upsurge in violence in the past year. Much of it is taking place in remote, rural areas between rival tribes.

It is often linked to disputes over resources, especially cattle and land.
Many civilians still have guns – a legacy of Sudan’s devastating 21 year civil war between the central government in the north and the southern based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, the SPLM/A. The proliferation of arms means means disputes can easily flare into violent conflict.

It wasn’t meant to turn out like this. Five years ago, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA, was signed, heralding a new era of hope for Sudan. It was supposed to end one of Africa’s longest conflicts, which cost the lives of around two million people and displaced around four million more.

But Sudan is once again at a crossroads. The coming year – with landmark elections and a referendum where southerners will decide if they want to remain part of a united Sudan or secede – will be critical. There are fears that unless the international community acts swiftly to bolster the fragile peace process, Sudan could once again face serious instability.

Public confidence in the CPA is also being undermined by the slow delivery of what many had hoped would be “peace dividends” – the establishment of basic services such as water, health clinics and schools. South Sudan is already one of the poorest and least-developed regions of the world. Less than half the population has access to safe drinking water. One in seven children will die before their fifth birthday.

But development cannot come without peace. Many aid organisations, like Oxfam, have re-started emergency response programmes to help communities displaced by conflict, setting aside longer-term development work.

Some villages that were untouched by the civil war are now facing violence and upheaval for the first time.

“I only heard peace was signed in Sudan”, said mother of four, Mary Agya.
“I don’t see or feel peace.” She speaks from experience. Her village in Diko, Mundri West County, was unscathed by Sudan’s long civil war. But she and villagers were forced to flee their homes after an attack by the vicious rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA, which first originated in northern Uganda.

Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Fubi Idia, is still traumatised after being abducted the rebels. She spent 12 days in the forest before she could be reunited with her family.

The family remain worried about the future and what it might bring. Communities in south Sudan have wearied of war and yearn for peace. The coming year will be a testing time.

Check out my video on YouTube....