Working in Haiti is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done… And rewarding. 19 Months and 19 trips to the country after the earthquake which devastated the country, a hell of a lot hasn’t changed – or is worse. A hell of a lot has changed for the better as well – much due to the perspicacity of the Haitian people, the hard work of independent charities and churches from other countries, the blood sweat and tears of the relief agencies…
Which I guess defines the “bipolar frustration” felt by many Haitians and AID workers.
The failures in the country include 19 months later, little to no progress has been made in fixing any of the very basic infrastructure systems in the country. It hits you in the face as soon as you land in the country – the airport is in shambles. The main terminal which suffered severe damage during the earthquake is exactly in the same condition as it was 15 months ago, the Air Traffic Control Tower which collapsed during the earthquake has been replaced by a “temporary tower” – a Winnebago parked in the middle of the airfield…
That is the only way in and out of the country for emergency relief supplies such as medicines and food.
There was supposed to be a major project to correct the basic problems with the airport – it hasn’t happened.
Cholera made it’s reappearance last year killing over 6,500 people. It’s back again this year, spreading into Port au Prince. The country does not have a sewer treatment system, so raw sewage is pumped into the ocean, or in some recently documented cases just dumped right on the ground. Don’t even think about the sanitary conditions in the tent cities where roughly 600,000 Haitians still live, or the rivers where raw sewage is dumped to flow out to the ocean, but which get clogged with millions of plastic bottles causing overflow into entire neighborhoods, despite the frantic efforts of local authorities to clear the debris.
There was supposed to be a new sewer treatment plant – it hasn’t happened.
And that is just the “short list”.
One of the victims of the situation appears to be trash collection. Someone donated dumpsters to collect local trash – but the company which emptied them stopped emptying them (I assume because they ran out of money). So residents now burn the trash in the dumpsters sitting along the streets adding to the already serious air pollution issues (One of the principal killers in Haiti is Tuberculosis, and the average lifespan is only 59).
These issues have to do with the billions of dollars in aid promised by various governmental and international financial agencies – which never got spent to fix the very basic problems in the country. Now – if anyone ever got around to writing a book about why that happened, and continues to happen, parts of it would come out like those international thrillers by a Coyle or Ludnum. The rest like a slow motion disaster movie. The fact of the matter is, both the domestic government under Preval, and the international agencies share the blame. Most people believe corruption is only on the part of the historically corrupt Haitian Government. That’s not entirely true – although the Preval administration was undeniably corrupt to the core – there has been plenty of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and foot dragging at the international agencies, including by our own US governmental agencies as well. The result has been little progress.
If our conservative friends really gave a damn about government incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, waste, and inability to work together toward a common goal… This would be Herman Cain’s new “bookend” speech. But they don’t – so I expect little to change for the better, regardless of who takes office in 2013. Besides – it’s a black country, and we know damn well where those rank on the hierarchy of conservative concerns.
So I guess, it is uplifting when you hear about something that is working. Here is one, very important case of a treatment that I believe, was initially developed in Africa (Although George Washington Carver could have told them about this 100 years ago), having success in Haiti, and creating an industry.
Thanks for making my day, Meds and Food for Kids!
‘Peanut butter medicine’ giving hope to Haiti’s hungry
With his ribs showing and his skin practically hanging off him, Pierre Wisny is painfully thin.
The 11-month-old Haitian weighs just 11 pounds, and it’s no surprise that he is severely malnourished.
The same applies for 3-year-old Alcincord Guerviscon, although it’s clear — even without measurements — to see that his growth has been stunted by the same condition. He weighs only 15 pounds.
In most of these cases, the children got this way because of poverty and a lack of access to good food. If they’re not given emergency treatment, they could die or suffer more effects of malnutrition, including reduced brain development.
For staff members at one clinic in northern Haiti, intervention comes in bright green packets: Medika Mamba, which means “peanut butter medicine” in Creole. It’s a ready-to-eat paste packed with nutritious ingredients that — over a period of weeks — gives a jolt to the system and puts children back on track. Made by a U.S.-based nonprofit called Meds and Food for Kids, it’s one of several brands of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.
“You can’t rehabilitate a child who has severe malnutrition with a plate of beans and rice. There’s just no way,” said Thomas Stehl, the nonprofit’s director of operations. “Their stomachs are too small and their nutritional requirements are too great to ever be satisfied in that way. So the quality and the density of food is really important. And that is why ready-to-use therapeutic food and Medika Mamba is such a great answer.”
At another clinic, where children have been on therapeutic food for several weeks, the difference is striking.
When Guerline d’Haiti arrived at the clinic, she weighed 10 pounds. Three weeks later, she had gained 2 pounds and become much more active.
Elcie Thoby, the head nurse of Limbe Hospital, says therapeutic food is a lifesaver.
“If you have children that can’t eat, really eat, that child won’t survive,” she said. “But with the Mamba medication specially made for little children — if that child starts taking the Mamba normally and regularly, the child will recuperate and start eating again.”
Haiti has long been one of the poorest countries in the world, with many of its people living on less than $2 a day.
But the poverty got even worse in 2010, when a massive earthquake struck in January, killing 316,000 people and displacing more than 2 million. As of July 2011, nearly 600,000 Haitians were still displaced, according to the International Organization of Migration.
“When the earthquake came … it became harder for the kids,” said Patrice Millet, one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011. “Now, most of them live in tents. … They have to fight for everything.”
Through his nonprofit program, Millet has helped hundreds of children from Haiti’s poorest slums, teaching them soccer and valuable life skills. But about once a week, he also gives them food to take home to their families.
Even with Medika Mamba and other emergency foods out there, Millet and many others know that the best course of action is to prevent malnutrition in the first place.
At Fort St. Michel Health Center in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, 350 at-risk children are enrolled in a study of a supplementary food known as Nutributter. Nutributter contains fewer calories than Medika Mamba and is designed to be taken with regular food, essentially “topping up” nutrients that are lacking in the child’s diet.
But there are critics of this type of intervention.
Marcos Arana-Cedeno, a consultant who studied malnutrition in Chiapas, Mexico, says fortified foods can do more harm than good.
“They are promoting dependence,” he said.
Arana-Cedeno is concerned that countries will simply distribute therapeutic foods instead of educating the public about malnutrition, something that “requires more energy and more effort.”
But Meds and Food for Kids says its program does take the long-term interests of the community into account. Rather than simply importing Medika Mamba, the organization makes the product in Haiti and works with local farmers, buying their peanuts and teaching them how to improve their yields. (more)