Tired of the tents; Haitians demand overdue aid

Around 300 people gathered outside the Haitian Consul on Madison Ave. Saturday morning to deliver one, fervent message: “Do your job!” Their vociferous chants were directed at the government, who has failed to deliver the promised relief aid to Haiti since the 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck on January 12.

While eight months have passed since Haiti’s record-breaking quake, the landscape looks largely the same.  It is a panorama cluttered with rubble and the desperate tatters of tent cities.  As the tents disintegrate, questions mount: Where’s all the money and why haven’t the most basic needs of the Haitian people been met?

“Those needs are food, clean water, security, jobs and healthcare,” said Stephanie Fletcher, an American nurse currently working at the only critical care hospital in Port-au-Prince. “The US needs to step up and do what’s responsible.”

According to Judy Reilly, a member of the Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East whom organized the protest, over one million people are still living in deplorable conditions in tent cities in Haiti, though she acknowledges official statistics are hard to come by.

What is clear, however, is that the crisis has stretched beyond the realm of a natural disaster. According to a report from Human Rights Watch, overcrowding, unlit camps and lack of security in the tent cities have left women more vulnerable to sexual violence.

“The human rights situation in Haiti is unacceptable,” said Margarette Tropnas, executive director of Dwa Famn, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of immigrant Haitian women in New York.  “Women are being raped, children are being raped. We need aid now!”

Current statistics released by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, said they have completed nearly 45 percent of 13,500 transitional shelters to be built in some of the largest tent cities. This would relocate about 30,000 homeless citizens, moving them out of the tents and into more permanent homes. But the progress is unimpressive bearing in mind the amount of aid that has been pledged to Haiti.

Besides the 100 million dollars in assistance promised by the Obama Administration, the latest figures released by  USAID state they have given over 1.2 billion dollars to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on the ground in Haiti.

“Right now, there are over 10,000 NGOs operating in Haiti,” said Kim Ives, a reporter for Haiti Liberte speaking to the crowd of protesters. Adding that only 38 percent of the money given to these organizations by USAID and through private donations has been given out. Now, the attention has turned to the remaining 68 percent of relief money.

In a recent report, the Red Cross, among other NGOs, told CBS news that they don’t want to be criticized for “spending too much up front” in response to questions about relief money whereabouts.

Still, as the money sits unused, the immediate and urgent humanitarian needs of the Haitian people continue to build. Likewise, global dissatisfaction with the situation increases.

“The aid has disappeared!” said Pat Conway, a protester whose husband was in Haiti on January 12 and survived the quake.  “There needs to be accountability – it’s taking way to long.”

Protesters at the rally were urged to write letters of disappointment to Congress, to speed up the delivery and dispersal of aid, especially in housing projects.

“No more excuses,” said McKinley Estime, a high school student holding a banner proclaiming “Haiti Will Rise Again.” “No more tent cities.”