Who Can Haitians Trust To Deliver Hurricane Aid?

Oct 11, 2016
Originally published on October 16, 2016 9:43 am

Who's in charge of the aid?

That's the question in the hurricane-ravaged southwest of Haiti.

Should politicians hand it out? Or aid groups? Or religious leaders?

Pastor Louis Masil, who lives in the tiny village of Banatte, doesn't think the government should be in control.

"Since the independence of Haiti, the culture was always all governments, all officials only care for themselves," he says. "They only care for stealing the money and not helping the communities."

In his village, on the outskirts of the seaport of Les Cayes, no politicians or aid officials have come to survey the damage.

Banatte wasn't leveled like some villages further to the west, although the hurricane took a toll. A lot of trees are down. Some buildings lost their roofs. The walls of some houses collapsed.

But in his bid for aid, Pastor Louis Masil casts the damage in apocalyptic terms.

"Banatte used to be one of the greenest area of Les Cayes. but the green Banatte is now brown," Masil says. Even though families are back working in the rice fields.

As he walks past the carcass of a single drowned cow he declares that most the livestock have been lost. Except there are pigs and sheep and goats tethered all over the village.

He says the church in his village collapsed, then concedes it was still under construction before the storm.

He's desperately trying to make the case that his village should be getting assistance even if the damage here wasn't the worst. That kind of lobbying is happening in lots of places in Southern Haiti right now.

Meanwhile, some people are taking matters into their own hands.

"Yesterday, Samaritan's Purse was on the road to deliver some survival kits to the people in the mountains, and they get ripped off," says Louis St. Germain, the vice governor of Les Cayes. He says that looters attacked the truck. "They took everything. It's terrible."

St. Germain says this shows why the local government should control aid distribution. It can deploy security forces to protect supplies.

Although he adds that the police are going to need reinforcements.

"The police stations are really, really overwhelmed by the situation," he says. "So yesterday we were talking to the director of the Haitian national police. He said he would send 60 more police officer to us, but it's not going to be enough."

Regardless of who's in charge, it could be weeks or months before aid is handed out, even to the hardest hit communities. And a lot of people are waiting for relief. The U.N. says 1.4 million Haitians need assistance in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Aid is starting to reach the parts of Haiti damaged by Hurricane Matthew. And it seems everyone is scrambling to get a part of it. Local politicians are trying to steer the limited resources to their areas. People have looted trucks carrying relief supplies. And there's a broader debate over who should oversee the disaster relief effort. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: The village of Banatte is a collection of a few dozen houses at the base of steep hills on the outskirts of the city of Les Cayes. Banatte was hit by Hurricane Matthew. A lot of trees are down. Some buildings lost their roofs. The walls of some houses collapsed. But it wasn't leveled like some of the villages further to the west. Pastor Louis Masil, however, cast the damage in apocalyptic terms.

LOUIS MASIL: (Through interpreter) Banatte used to be one of greenest area of Les Cayes. But now the green Banatte is now brown.

BEAUBIEN: As we walk past the carcass of a single drowned cow, he declares that most of the livestock have been lost.

MASIL: (Through interpreter) Animals normally can't breathe normally when they are exposed to so much rain or so much, like, wind blowing. So that's why a lot of animals didn't survive the hurricane.

BEAUBIEN: Except there are pigs and sheep and goats tethered all over the village. Families are back working in their rice fields. We pass a smiling woman in a clean white-and-red shirt. She lost everything, the pastor declares.

He describes Banatte as hell. And everything on the other side of the muddy river at the bottom of the hill is paradise. He's desperately trying to make the case that his village should be getting assistance even if the damage here wasn't the worst. And that's happening in lots of places in southern Haiti right now.

There's also a debate about who should control the assistance. Many politicians in Haiti are vying with each other and aid groups to run the post-disaster relief effort. But Pastor Masil doesn't trust the politicians.

MASIL: (Through interpreter) So since the independence of Haiti, the culture was always all governments - all officials - only care for themselves. They only care for, like, stealing the money and not, like, helping the communities.

BEAUBIEN: The pastor says religious organizations like his church should control the aid. The reality, however, is that even for some of the hardest-hit communities, it could be weeks or months before aid is handed out. And the vice governor of Les Cayes, Louis St. Germain, says people are getting desperate for assistance to arrive.

LOUIS ST GERMAIN: Yesterday, you know, a Samaritan's Purse was on the road to deliver some kids - several kids - to the people in the mountains. And then they get ripped off. They just take everything. It's terrible.

BEAUBIEN: St. Germain says this shows why aid distribution should be controlled by the local government. It can deploy security forces to protect supplies. Although, he adds that the police are going to need reinforcements.

ST GERMAIN: The police officers are - the police stations are really overwhelmed by the situation. So yesterday, we were talking to the director-in-chief of the whole Haiti - of national police. And he said that he's going to send 60 more police officers to us. But it's not going to be enough.

BEAUBIEN: Six-zero.

ST GERMAIN: Six-zero.

BEAUBIEN: Six-zero.

The U.N. now says 1.4 million people in Haiti are in need of assistance in the wake of this hurricane. St. Germain says it's imperative right now that Haiti figures out what the systems are going to be to deliver that aid. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Les Cayes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.