In a tent city in Haiti, having an actual tent is a luxury. The homes are improvised. People have become masters at making something out of nothing. Even kids make kites out of discarded paper plates and pieces of plastic bags.
CBS News Anchor Katie Couric reports formal education is a luxury too. The few schools that have sprung up are a source of tremendous pride and excitement: two rare commodities.
Three months after the earthquake, what once was an impromptu urban settlement with just a few hundred families has swelled to more than 48,000 people.
“We think there’re about 13,000 children here – about 250 or so of them are in school,” said Dr. Louise Ivers.
Ivers is an infectious disease specialist and the clinical director of the organization, Partners in Health, for all of Haiti. She oversees the medical care, but as the tent city has grown so has her role — and she also become the de-facto mayor of this place. On the day we visited, she served as our official tour guide.
“You call this camp the most vulnerable. Why?” Couric asked.
“Because it’s the most underserved camp of all the camps on Port-au-Prince. It’s one of the largest ones. It’s one of the most at risk for flooding. It has the fewest number of organizations helping here,” Ivers said.
“I mean, the basic human rights issues of what should be done in an emergency still hasn’t really reached that level, even three months later. So their number of latrines is way, way below what it should be,” she added.
There are 114 latrines for 48,000 people.
“There’s no private bathing space for women. So women are, are bathing just on the street. And men too,” Ivers added.
To say the conditions are unsanitary would be an understatement.
“There’s garbage everywhere. There are rats here that are biting children. There’s so many mosquitoes ’cause there’s so much standing water,” Ivers said. “It’s really, really horrible, horrible living situation.”
“What kinds of diseases occur in these kinds of unsanitary conditions?” Couric asked.
“Diarrheal disease is probably one of the biggest ones,” Ivers said. “When you can’t wash your hands, when you don’t have soap, when you don’t have a latrine, then you get diseases, causing diarrhea. Typhoid is very common.”
In most of the tents, people basically sleep on the ground.
Many people are also worried about their personal safety.
“It’s particularly vulnerable for women because there’s not enough security here. There is not any police patrols at nighttime – and so there are cases of violence and fear of violence and threats of violence,” Ivers said.
“It happens late at night when women are going to latrines. Or if they’re going to get water. I mean none of these dwellings are secure against entry. Anybody could enter into these dwellings. So…there’s no lighting here. There’s a couple of lights but not sufficient to actually, you know make someone feel safe. So it happens at all those usual times.”
Then to everyone’s surprise – a UN security detail happened to appear.
“Apparently there are a lot of women who are being sexually assaulted at night. Can you all provide more security for these people at night?” Couric asked.
“Yes. Yes. We are doing it at night,” the UN security guard replied. “Also we are doing foot patrol As long as we are present we are ensuring that such things are not to be.”
There was no security to protect a 21-year-old mother of a three-month-old baby.
She said she was going to one of the latrines at 8:00 p.m. when she heard someone say “stop.” But she didn’t stop. She kept walking. But then, she said, they put their hands on her and forced her to stop. She said she was raped by three men.
Camp leaders have emerged to try to maintain some order and give residents a place where they can go and file complaints. But they say an accurate number is hard to ascertain because they don’t go and make a proper complaint about it. They don’t want to be stigmatized. They don’t want to be subject to more violence.
Ivers is weary and frustrated. She knows there are limits to what she can do.
“We need partners. We need people who are engineers, who will come and do the engineering part with us,” Ivers said.
“Why aren’t other organizations, why isn’t the government, why aren’t more things coalescing?” Couric asked.
“Whose job is this, to take care of the Haitian people who’ve been victims of the earthquake?” Ivers asked. “It’s the international community, represented by the United Nations, as a coordinating mechanism to support the government of Haiti.”
“Is the U.N. not doing its job here?” Couric asked.
“Somebody’s not doing their job right. Because, if this is as good as we can do, it’s certainly not good enough.”
Today, we received an e-mail from Dr. Ivers, who said that since we visited two weeks ago, things are improving – mud and garbage replaced by new gravel. And, there has been progress constructing drainage canals.
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