Features

Disaster upon disaster

Haiti | Geography plus poverty makes for persistent hardship across much of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere

With high latitude tropics, terrain rising to over 8,000 feet above sea level, and severely degraded environment due to clearcutting for firewood and other practices, Haiti is one of the world's most natural disaster prone countries.

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Many children who live in Bayonnais bathe, drink, and play in dirty, polluted rivers without access to health care.

Yu Ri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Haiti's third most populous city, Gonaives (124 miles north of Port-au-Prince), on Sept. 10, 2008, after being flooded by Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike.

Esther Dania, 52, single mother of six, lives with her children in a 12-foot tent the International Red Cross gave her last September. Hurricane Gustav and other storm-related floods killed more than 800 Haitians and left over 1 million homeless. Today the tent is her only possession, along with the clothes she is wearing. "When my one outfit is dirty, I take it off to wash it and then wear it again," Dania said. Villagers from Bayonnais, 30 miles from the city of Gonaives, where the floods hit the hardest last September, lost their homes and have not yet recuperated. Excessive deforestation due to tree-cutting for charcoal-making, fences, and huts means mountainsides turn into rivers when storms arrive. "With the cutting of the trees and lack of program to reforest the land, the environmental situation will continue to deteriorate," said Charles Amicy, president of the Presbyterian Mission in Haiti, a church-planting and school-building ministry.

L'Hopital la Providence des Gonaives is a ghost town, emptied and in disrepair from the damages it received during the floods. Some of its patients drowned during the worst of the flooding, and the bodies of the victims were stacked up outside in a makeshift morgue. Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross finally decided their only option was to bury the bodies in mass graves.

Charlotte Schmitt, an American nurse, holds a piece of charcoal. Resources quickly deteriorate as people in Haiti continuously cut trees to make charcoal, not only to use for cooking and ironing, but also to sell.

Joseph Menorce, gardener for the Presbyterian Mission, grows fresh produce to distribute to the victims of the floods. Amicy, head of the Mission, believes it's a smart way to give to local villagers who lost their own crops last September. "The ministry was able to give them food, water, and clothes because they have lost everything in this flood," he said. "In some houses, we have distributed some money and food to help the families to survive."

Amicy's Presbyterian Mission campus lost everything in the floods, yet is not only being repaired but also constructing an orphanage. "With the help of friends and churches, we were able to rebuild one house and repair three others for families," said Amicy. "We helped people to cover the funeral expenses of loved ones who passed away in the flood and we provided counseling for the community. In addition, we provided free health care for the whole community with the support of several medical teams from Canada and the United States."

All photos (except where noted) by Sarah Kiewel

Children living in the villages of Bayonnais travel through the mountains, sometimes walking hours, to attend a school run by International Christian Development Mission (ICDM). Along with providing a daily meal for the children, ICDM provides education through its child sponsorship ministry. On Sunday morning local villagers walk for hours to attend a church supported by ICDM. Director Yvan Pierre says he has to turn people away when there isn't room for everyone who wants to attend.

-Sarah Kiewel is a photo editor at the University of Florida and Priscilla Santos is a freelance journalist and writer for the University of Florida College of Medicine

Sarah Kiewel and Priscilla Santos
Sarah Kiewel and Priscilla Santos

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