On our way back from Dominican Republic to Hinche, where I will be analyzing the local and regional situation in the next couple of days, we had a stopover in Port-au-Prince. As there was enough time left to reach the Plateau Central by day we decided spontaneously to have a look at Port-au-Prince, Petionville and Delmas.
We entered the metroplitan area from Croix-de-Bouquet, which is a large suburban area connecting the roads to the North and the East. Yet before we saw a lot of collapsed houses – as it was to expect the destruction rate grew as nearer as we approached the capital. In Croix-de-Bouquet itself there were a lot of houses destroyed as well, but the main streets seemed to be dispatched and ready to use. We saw different smaller markets and a lot of Taptap’s and other cars driving around. Most gas stations were open. Driving further we reached Delmas 45 which led us into the more central urban area. Probably the earthquake did not have much more intensity there, but the infrastructural situation caused a lot more destructions and demolitions. Still we did not notice any signs of unrest or citizen upheaval but life appeared to be calm though we shall not forget that this is one of the main Caribbean metropoles and thus normally a huge potpourri of noise and movement. At the end of Delmas 45 we reached Avenue Delmas, a big vene of traffic passing by the whole municipality of Delmas and linking Port-au-Prince with Petionville. We took the road upwards to Petionville. Now on Avenue Delmas we could realize an impressive amount of fallen houses. Any other exsting infrastructures were sharply affected as well. Although I did not really have a good feeling doing it I took as much pictures as I could from the car. We did not really want to stop because we had to observe the population’s mood before risking anything. More upwards we reached Petionville and noticed that this zone has been stroke gradually and much lesser than where we had come from. We did some loops in Petionville and saw a lot of people on the streets. Though Sunday there were lots of markets and lots of noise as well. Some look on the goods proved that many stuff must have been brought from Dominican Republic to the capital. Besides some definitely new clothes stocks we did not see much items we could consider derived from official aid provisions. Thus far, we went to our central bureau which survived the seisms. Next to it at the Primature where the Prime Minister’s office used to be, we saw the first bigger refugee camp. I use the term refugee as it might be a commonly understood one, though throughout this report I am logically talking about internally displaced people, so-called IDP’s. There was no visible authority in the camp (we would see a lot of that type later as well) meaning that it mainly consisted of self-made tents and shelters and it probably lacked of sufficient water and food supply. We did not see a medical tent either. Later we took another road to reorientate ourselves down the way to Port-au-Prince and Delmas. We passed the Western side of Petionville which is in juxtaposition to a lot of so-called “bidonvilles” the way the slums are called in Haiti. As it was the second time I visited the city I had no real comparison to what it looked like before the catastrophy but I was told that everywhere I saw bleak slopes there were hundreds of habitats next to each other. Now they seems to be hidden in a huge bunch of ruins down the valley. One can imagine that no real work has been done down there (as other zones have been prioritized) and hence, how much more corpses may be hidden under the rocks and stones. We went further down and took some roads in downtown Petionville next to Delmas and Port-au-Prince. Here we realized a very mixed picture. There were blocks, completely destroyed and other which miraculously showed no major demolition signs. On the other hand one must not forget that there are thousands of houses fallen, but a certainly similar amount (or an even higher one) of habitats which will not be usable any more. We saw houses which once had some 5 or 6 levels, now bawled out to just on level without being cleared yet. Same applies for those what I mentioned for the bidonvilles. Our last loop took us to the city centre at Port-au-Prince where the frequently-filmed Presidential Palace is located next to the Champ de Mars, previously one of the cultural and social centres of Haiti. Next to the most visible sign of national Haitian immobility and disability to cope with the disaster we looked at the country’s most visible sign of misery. Where earlier Haitian craftmen and -women sold their artisanal work and theatre groups presented their shows, an incredible crowd of men, women and children took their places in the shelters. The smell was pretty ugly, a mixture of dead bodies, excrements, smoke and other odours I could not define. After that we took the road to the airport from where we left the metropolitan area to drive to Hinche. We again passed several dozens of more or less well organized “camps de fortunes” of the countless homeless. I felt touched by all the sad things I saw. But my curiousity as well has been satisfied in terms of seeing in reality what media is telling us since a couple of weeks.
My impression is twofold. Of course there are thousands of people suffering and the demolition is inimaginable. But there are other issues that are forgotten. There is yet again a certain social and street life in Haiti. I saw a man who put lots of Haitian flags on his bike. Then he drove through the city shouting out his wishes of hope for the fellows he passed by. There are markets, there are points of water distribution and in some camps food distribution proved to work in a very coordinated manner. If aid continues and the Haitian people are empowered and enabled to take up their own destiny and future, it might work out and the country might be able to cope with the recent events. But there are some question marks definitely of major concern and linked to the capital’s situation and condition.
The reconstruction of Haiti and its further prospects of development will depend on its ability to decentralize power, education, economy and culture. And concretely in the case of Port-au-Prince, after having seen the amount of destruction there, I really wonder if it will be possible to reconstruct it where it used to be located…