Haitian official recalls hardship created by barrage of storms

An aide to Haiti's prime minister met with community members to talk about what the island is doing to cope with hurricane destruction.


Daniel Henrys, chief of staff to Haiti's newly appointed Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis, recounted tales of waters that rose as high as 12 feet, submerging complete neighborhoods and bruising an island's spirit.

''Haiti was in a place of agriculture insecurity before the storms,'' Henrys said to members of the Haitian community gathered on Sept. 28 at the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Little Haiti.

With more than $180 million in agricultural crops wiped out, the government is seeking $123 million to get a harvest in the next six months. According to Henrys, the Haitian government has already pledged $56 million dollars of its own money.

At the two-hour meeting organized by the Haitian Resource Development Foundation and the Haitian-American Emergency Relief Committee, Henrys noted many challenges facing Haiti before it can recover from the effects of four consecutive hurricanes -- Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- in the span of three weeks.

Couple with food riots in April, Ike worsened an already fragile agriculture market, left more than eight million people homeless, killed about 500 people and destroyed six bridges isolating parts of the country.

''Haiti is in a terrible situation,'' Henrys told an audience of some 30 people.

In response to the devastation, Henrys highlighted some of the government's actions: increased police presence to discourage pilfering of relief goods, revised custom laws to deliver aid within a 24-hour period and a new legal provision for the government to declare a state of emergency that did not exist.

Audience members representing sectors of the Haitian community and the general public showed up with many questions.

Some asked about preventive evacuation plans and Henrys said, ''It does not happen on a large scale.'' Others were concerned about the weak infrastructure. One audience member asked, ``How do I know that four years from now, the same thing won't happen again?''

One issue that created a stir was a question about psychological aid for a traumatized nation. Henrys said that there are psychologists on hand but not enough. That answer did not satisfy many in the audience.

''The government does a lot of talking, but it needs to act. The people don't have confidence in them,'' said Pierre Robert Auguste, president of the Entrepreneurship Association of l'Artibonite Haiti.

Some were optimistic. Yves Jodesty, a member of the Haitian American Professional Coalition, said he was happy to see the government reaching out to the diaspora.

''I'm happy he came out to inform the community,'' Jodesty said. ``This is the first time they've reached out to us.

''The government was in a place of instability,'' referring to the delayed ratification of Pierre-Louis, which left Haiti without a prime minister for almost five months. Pierre- Louis was sworn-in Sept. 6 during the melee of storms.

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