Category Archives: Earthquake

The old military airfield – pictures

Some pictures taken during a registration drive at the old military airfield in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Same pattern as last time – we gave out flyers, sent in the sound trucks to inform and entertain, created a bit of a party – and then the registration began.

I love some of these photos. It is amazing how high-spirited Haitians remain, especially if you offer some hope. Music can be enormously powerful in these situations.

After I create a set like this, I like to make a quick iphoto slide show, and add on a nice nostalgic tune – in this case to Fool on the Hill by the Beatles.

It’s quite an experience – you see and do all these overwhelming things during a day, but it goes by so fast you don’t really register them until later. A relaxed photo viewing session, set to music, puts everything into focus, the historic nature of these events. This is really significant stuff. I sincerely hope the world doesn’t walk away this time.

APOLOGIES FOR BROKEN PHOTO LINKS – the UPDATED FULL FLICKR SET IS HERE

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DJKennyMix plays Champ de Mars; local outreach, my four jobs

Here’s a short video I made of our registration process, currently talking place around the country. Our first stop was the large settlement in Champ de Mars, the public park outside Port-au-Prince’s destroyed presidential palace.

It is an important part of the big picture. The information we get gets plugged into a larger strategy to (as far as we can) beat the rains, which consists of four main approaches – enabling people to go home (debris removal from home areas etc), helping people find host families, to support the ad hoc sites where people have gathered, and to plan and create new sites. (We have a very cool map on cccmhaiti.info which, with Google Earth, you can fly around the city examining all the sites in intricate detail.)

In all of this communications are crucial: and that means talking to Haitians in their own language and culture. As the media and communications officer for the International Organization for Migration, I have four jobs – dealing with international press, coordinating within the UN system, producing my own media (like the video below) and local outreach.

The last part is in many ways the most important; absolutely crucial to the success of the entire operation here.

Traditionally people had a sense of “this is the project” and “this is the communications of the project”. That is changing – albeit not fast enough. The humanitarian aid system is learning that you cannot delink the success of a project from the communications around that project, especially in a country like post-earthquake Haiti which has very limited local communications capacity.

In the first days after the Jan 12 earthquake, radio was central. An organisation called Internews organised a regular slot on 27 local radio stations in creole. There was also a lot of activity around SMS, which is clearly a growth area worldwide – with Thomson Reuters organising messages out, and Ushahidi organising messges in – but it’s effectiveness remains a little unclear.

Then there are more direct forms of communication. The video shows one: the soundtruck, with a DJ, going around playing music, talking to people.

Haitians, as all people, need more than food and shelter. They also need entertainment, and fun. These are basic requirements for a fulfilling life. So we try to address both with the roadshow – we play some nice music, and also talk about what is happening.

The result was heartwarming. Kids and women dancing in the street, smiles, a good mood all round. This was a valuable outcome in itself.

Even more encouraging, people the next day lined up peacefully in their thousands. What could have been a threatening tense affair, was remarkably relaxed. I like to think we had something to do with that, although I am also constantly amazed by the internal discipline of the Haitian people during this crisis. Given the situation and context, there has been remarkably little violence.

We have also created flyers with a local comics artist, Anthony Louis-Jeune. I have a new guy on the team – Bertrand Martin – who set up a marketing agency here before the quake, and who is proving invaluable at taking some of the load.

This is the flyer we are using in our next registration:

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In the longer term, I have many ambitions. I would love to create a radio soap opera, starring Haiti’s best comedians, charting the life of a family dealing with displacement.

It’s a winning formula, that has worked in many countries. Again, the mantra is to both entertain and inform. We let the artists do their thing, make it a good laugh, a fun event, but also push one message per show – which could range from wash your hands, to how to form a local community structure.

So much we can do, so much we can do. Interesting times.

Scenes and portraits in the streets and settlements of Port-au-Prince

A simple photo post today.

Taking pictures in the camps of Port-au-Prince is an exceptional experience.

There are almost 350 spontaneous settlements here, ranging in size from a couple of dozen to several thousand people.

We have been visiting these sites, ensuring they have sufficient infrastructure, water, medical support. We are now going to start a major effort to remove rubble, in order to clear the areas where the people come from, giving them a chance to get back to their home areas and rebuild. A gargantuan task, a truly gargantuan task.

The Haitian people are extraordinary. If you take the time to chat, be polite, listen to their stories, they are delighted to pose for pictures, and take great joy in looking at them, giggling. I have come to believe that in some ways, taking a photo, and sharing it, offers an opportunity for people to act with dignity, feel significant, even in the most undignified of surroundings.

Yesterday, we took Kris Allen – last year’s American Idol winner – on a tour of one of these sites, in Place de la Paix. It is a breathtaking scene, a massive labyrinth of temporary shelters, crammed together but well organised, supplied with water, latrines, and a population of deeply welcoming people, delighted to chat about our respective philosophies, the future of Haiti, the international system, footballers, and rock stars.

Out of nowhere a kid came up and started rapping with Kris Allen, playing guitar on a condom. Hilarity ensued. Amazing scene. I hope the US showbiz industry isn’t too nervous to show it.

You can see the whole Flickr set here, and another set here.

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On being berated for not doing enough

A letter by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes was leaked to the Washington Post.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ top humanitarian relief coordinator has scolded his lieutenants for failing to adequately manage the relief effort in Haiti, saying that an uneven response in the month after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake has undercut confidence in the world body’s ability to deliver vital assistance, according to a confidential e-mail.

Well, so be it.

No doubt many things could have been done better. For example, it would be better if so many emergency workers didn’t only come for two weeks. I understand everyone has lives, family, friends etc, but this constant throughflow of people really does make it difficult to get things going.

But I wanted to comment on what was not in the article. (And this is no reflection on Colum, who wrote an entirely fair story based on the Holmes letter. And this is in a purely personal capacity, no reflection of my organisation).

A lot of UN people died here. We were decimated.

This is not even mentioned any more.

For the first week, everyone was running around shellshocked, with no working communications.

We lost friends, partners and children. Families were ripped apart.

We were victims. Yet we have not been allowed any time to grieve, to cope with our loss. We are not considered victims, despite our lives being traumatically disrupted. Would have been worth a mention, I would have thought.

And people gloss over “logistical difficulties” as though it is a mealy mouthed excuse.

It is not. Haiti is a very poor country with very limited infrastructure that has just suffered a catastrophic earthquake, disrupting social systems, disrupting all governance, leaving roads clogged with traffic, rubble everywhere; with a road from the DR that floods, a small airport and a half-broken port. This isn’t just a logistical difficulty – this is a herculean challenge. Why is it so hard to get this message across?

It is as though one month after the world’s largest natural disaster we are expected to have reversed two hundred years of stunted development.

Have you ever tried adding a garage to the side of your house? How long did that take? Getting the planning permission, desgning the garage, contracting the builders etc etc. In the richest countries of the world, with working government and infrastucture, from start to finish how long would that take? A couple of months?

In Haiti, an entire capital city has to be rebuilt, with no infrastructure. With the rains now falling. With a hurricane on the way. With regular aftershocks and a new earthquake expected. While we all live in tents ourselves, moving around constantly, operating on very little sleep.

I am not saying don’t criticise where criticism is due. We must always search for better systems. It is important to recognise shortfalls.

But a little empathy would also be a nice thing.

Scenes of an apocalypse; more distributions; touring a slum

Drive to the distribution point at Eglise Bolosse – an extraordinary trip through often apocalyptic scenes; an ad hoc tent camp under the ruins of a former gas station…

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…hillside houses crushed; overflowing gutters filled with rubble and plastic and rubbish; a makeshift infirmary under blue plastic awnings, a child with a swollen foot, welts and flies, who squeals with delight when I snap pics and show him the results.

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We are handing out tarpaulins, water and jerrycans to a thousand destitute families; an old woman comes to me and asks “di ri, di ri”. I realise she wants rice. “Desolee; on n’a pas du riz ici.” She walks off, despondent.

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A small scuffle later on as some men sneak round the back and try to steal boxes, but overall an amazingly disciplined affair, hundreds of women patiently in line waiting their turn, happy some help has arrived.

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We continue to explain the shelter strategy – why starting the basis of a transitional shelter is better in the medium term than tents – but it can be difficult to explain.

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So many demands – why haven’t we fixed everything yet? But even in the insta-twitter age, some things simply take time, and in a deeply poor country, clogged by traffic jams, where the government and international aid community were themselves devasted, with only a small airport, port, and a bad overland road to the Dominican Republic, there are absolute limits to what even the most powerful nations on earth can do.

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We have seen those limits plainly enough in domestic tragedies, in rich countries with working systems, let alone here. We are all working very hard to get a difficult job done.

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A guide takes me through a hillside slum. Some of it still stands, some of it has been destroyed. I will post video tomorrow. Spirits still seem OK. Simple kites are flying. Local markets are working – a woman carries a panful of courgettes on her head. Re-establishing basic social systems. Coping.

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Nuns on a hill; outreach; a tale of two cities

It’s been an exhausting few days, doing many jobs at the same time. Emergencies are both horrifying and exhilarating – so much to do, structures in flux, time-frames so tight, that you can often determine what you want to be involved in, and get stuck in. No waiting on ceremony here.

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I am doing three main jobs right now: liaising with the international press, taking photos and making videos (in itself actually a 3-person job), and helping design a comprehensive strategy to reach local populations with crucial information – using all sorts of tools, from radio, to sms, posters, mobile cinema units. So much going on, so much going on. Information structures are in crisis here, and we need to help support the reconstruction of the entire media world.

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I made a quick film of a distribution we did by helicopter in the far hills beyond Port-au-Prince. Tough conditions, but a real community there. In the capital things can get chaotic fast, many people trying to get political and financial advantage from the situation, but here it was a delight to work with people who knew each other. We were working closely with a religious order, doing great work. I am not religious myself, but these sisters and brothers are really on the front line, in tough, tough conditions.

Meanwhile Port-au-Prince is reverting to its former two worlds status. Petionville, the more wealthy area, is returning to form. Most buildings there are fine, the restaurants are up and running, shops open, systems are back in place. The main noticeable difference is a vast number of displaced camping out in the town squares, but you can feel some kind of normality creeping back.

But other parts of the city, and in the regions, remain utterly brutalised. Great deprivation. Everyone wants to know why we haven’t fixed it yet. But please realise – this is the country’s major city, and it has fallen to pieces. Not only buildings, but community structures, society’s glue. And us also. Many of us died too. It is amazing that Haitians continue to bear their load with such patience. This is a long long job.

So, a return to what we already knew in Haiti: the wealthy and the deprived, side by side, but magnified, exacerbated, many times.

Every so often, driving around, I get hit with an overwhelming sense of the momentous times I am living through. This is unprecedented stuff, it will be in the history books. I hope we get it right.

Helping Haiti, in photos; a simple way we can all keep the issue alive

I plan to start posting many more photos of what is going on here – the sights we encounter when we distribute items, help organize temporary settlements, create shelter and so on. They can all be found at my flickr photoset called Working for Haiti.

I’ll pick a few every couple of days and post them. I will also be regularly posting videos on my youtube channel markyturner. My first video, of a distribution in all its complexity, is here.

If you like any of this media, I would strongly encourage you to repost, share on facebook and other social media – whatever you can. (All photos are taken by me, except where explicitly stated otherwise; I have permission to disseminate them all).

The international press is going home, day by day. That leaves people like us to keep the message alive. With the decline of journalism, we all assume a responsibility.

Everyone with a computer is a media person these days. Let’s do what we can to keep Haiti present in the world’s conscience.

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(this photo take by Jean-Philippe Chauzy)

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On re-building Haiti from scratch… what are you talking about?

There has been an explosion of Haiti experts of late, the inevitable procession of talking heads and celebrities, pundits and media heroes that follows any disaster. So be it; there is nothing wrong with people educating themselves on an issue and sharing that education – even though we all know that this new found passion is, for the most part, likely to last little more than a couple of weeks.

But there is a potentially dangerous byproduct from all this: that an uninformed groupthink emerges, driving policy in an equally uninformed legislature in Washington.

Over recent days, there has been a fad to describe Haiti’s earthquake as a “man-made disaster” (Anne Applebaum), which has its roots in Haitian culture (David Brooks), which requires drastic solutions – a complete rethink and restart for Haiti, absorption into the US Commonwealth etc.

To which many others are beginning to fire back – what are you on about?

First of all, a man-made disaster. Seriously? I thought it was an earthquake.

Come on people… of course there are issues with building codes, and we know that earthquakes in different parts of the world cause different numbers of deaths. But earthquakes are NOT man-made. They are natural phenomena, caused by the shifting of tectonic plates. In the rush to be clever, such comments are horrifyingly callous. When the next quake hits Tokyo or California, will we dismiss that as a man-made disaster too? By that logic, is there ever such a thing as a natural disaster?

Look, sometimes bad things happen; we are mortal mammals living on an active planet, we do not yet have total mastery over our environment (although clearly the things we do have consequences for it). Of course such events are an interaction between man and environment. But an earthquake, in my book, remains a natural disaster.

Even more worrying, however, is the proposal that somehow Haiti should now be remade. That old structures of governance can be swept aside removing past patterns of corruption and wrong-headed thinking. Again – seriously – what is wrong with you people? Didn’t we just go through this in Iraq?

There are people in Haiti! They have history and culture and networks and relationships. You can’t just cover the island with asphalt and move its inhabitants to ‘New Haiti’ in Wisconsin. (At least, you might be able to but it would be an enormous crime.)

So, a plea. When proposing solutions for Haiti’s people, can we please dispense for a while with the vapid celebrity know-it-all columnists that the great newspapers of our time turn to in such moments. Let’s also have a few more Haitian voices, huh?

Take your Anne Applebaums and David Brooks’, and set them to work on an epic describing the lint they found in their naval this morning. I am sure it would attract thousands of avid readers, hanging on their every word identifying with their struggles. But for pity’s sake, take these blowhards off an issue which might have consequences for a nation on its knees.

I am obviously not alone in these thoughts. Amy Wilentz tackles these issues in the Nation, as does Matt Taibbi, and the author Mark Danner.

Now we need more Haitian voices.

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Haiti Aid, Bank Bonuses; Debt

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, US giving to the people of Haiti has outpaced that following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Contributions continue to pour in for relief efforts in Haiti. Nine days after the massive earthquake struck, donors have contributed more than $355-million to 35 American nonprofit groups that are providing aid to people in Haiti, a Chronicle tally finds.

The pace of giving for Haiti is running ahead of the amount donated in the same period after the Asian tsunami in 2004, but slower than the outpouring of gifts after the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In the eight days after the flooding started in New Orleans, Americans gave at least $580-million for relief efforts. In the nine days after the Asian tsunamis, major U.S. relief groups raised $163-million.

This is heartening news.

But I wanted to consider these figures side by side with another big story at the moment: bank bonuses.

Here are a couple of recent articles –

US investment bank Goldman Sachs is expected to reveal a pay and bonus pot of $20bn (£12.3bn) for 2009 tomorrow, reigniting the row over City pay and taking the total amount being paid out by Wall Street financiers to more than $65bn. The Guardian

Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley has set aside $14.4bn (£8.8bn) to pay its employees after returning to profitability last year, amounting to an average payout of $235,000 to each of its staff members.The Guardian

It’s pretty striking isn’t it?

The financial sector’s bonus system has been widely blamed for helping precipitate a global financial crisis, leading to staggering payouts by taxpayers to keep the system afloat. Now the same institutions are paying their employees record breaking bonuses, in multiple billions.

At the same time, a short hop from Miami, an entire country is on its knees, millions are destitute, and US generosity has reached $355 million.

I don’t want to downplay the very real generosity of the many who have donated, and I realise that the comparison is misleading. But still – money is money, people are people, and there is something profoundly wrong with such blatant, staggering inequality.

Nothing new here, I suppose. Western governments are already looking for ways to reign in the excess.

But coincidences of timing, juxtapositions, can help us consider the human condition in a new light, and help us craft better ways of doing things. At the very least, I do hope some of these bonus recipients spare a thought – and a few dollars – for their fellow human beings just across the water. After all, it might make them feel a little better about themselves.

UPDATE In response to these musings, my friend Andrew Clark, a Guardian writer, passed on this interesting link from the US Chamber of Commerce. It lists individual donations given by corporations, which have now topped $100m. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs each gave $1million.

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Calls are growing for the cancellation of Haiti’s debt.

The ONE campaign has set up a petition site here. It had reached 138,000 as of writing.

Dear Finance Ministers, IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and bilateral creditors, As Haiti rebuilds from this disaster, please work to secure the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s $1 billion debt and ensure that any emergency earthquake assistance is provided in the form of grants, not debt-incurring loans.

Also, this from the Jubilee debt campaign:

Donations are flooding in to Haiti after the devastating earthquake that struck on 12 January. But every day money is still flowing out of the country, to repay Haiti’s remaining debts.

After the earthquake which has left an estimated 200,000 dead, Jubilee Debt Campaign is calling for urgent cancellation of Haiti’s debt as the country attempts to recover from this disaster.

In June 2009, thanks to the efforts of Jubilee supporters, two thirds ($1.2 billion) of Haitian debt was cancelled. However as the deal only included debts accrued up to 2004, loans drawn since that time have been adding to national debt. As the UN launches an appeal for more than $550 million in aid, Haiti has $891 million debt remaining on its books.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund has offered Haiti a $100 million LOAN in response to the disaster, with unacceptable conditions attached.