Haiti Pauses to Catch Its Breath and Remember

Published on
by
The Independent/UK

Haiti Pauses to Catch Its Breath and Remember

One month on from the devastating quake, thousands join memorial services

by
Guy Adams

Thousands of survivors gathered across Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, to commemorate the 12 January earthquake that killed 125,000 people. (REUTERS / IVAN ALVARADO)

In tent cities, outside demolished churches, and
at the mass graves that have become a symbol of their appalling loss,
the people of Haiti paused yesterday to mark the one month anniversary
of the natural disaster that killed 230,000 people and left millions
more struggling for survival.

The
national day of mourning brought the shell-shocked nation together to
honour victims of the devastating earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the
Richter scale, flattened much of the capital city, and made an
estimated 1.2 million of its citizens homeless.

Priests from Haiti's two official religions, the Catholic and Voodoo faiths, joined Protestant clergymen at yesterday's main remembrance service, held under mimosa trees outside the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

They were watched by the 125,000 victims who are
now living under makeshift tarpaulins in the nearby park. Like many
mourners across the city, they wore black armbands, and sang hymns and
gospel music.

The
country's president, Réne Préval, whose administration is under
increasing political pressure, wept throughout the service. He was
comforted by his wife. "Haiti will not die; Haiti must not die," he
said.

At 4.35pm local time, the moment the
quake struck, Haitians at home and abroad kneeled to pray. They
remained silent for 40 seconds, as long as the ground shook that
fateful January day.

Yesterday's anniversary
was also marked at hundreds of smaller religious events. Churches in
the Petionville suburb were so packed that loudspeakers had to be set
up. "All families were affected by this tragedy and we are celebrating
the memory of the people we lost," one mourner, Desire Joseph
Dorsaintvil, told Associated Press.

The day of
mourning allowed the nation to catch its breath, after weeks of chaotic
emergency operations. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on the
challenges that face aid workers battling to treat the injured and
feed, clothe, and provide water to survivors.

Although the immediate crisis has receded, and the largest humanitarian
relief effort ever mounted is now underway, millions of refugees will
soon have to contend with the hurricane season, which begins in earnest
in April.

The government said this week that
rains could become the biggest threat to recovery. Flooding will damage
already-limited sanitation, and aid workers fear it could turn crowded
camps into outdoor sewers.

"There's a massive
concern about the possible outbreak of disease, and so we are working
to combat that quickly," Aisha Bain of the International Rescue
Committee told CNN. "We are working on a large-scale buildup of providing clean water, latrines, showers, hand-washing stations."

The
coming rainy season could also affect the long-term success of
reconstruction efforts. The European Union has proposed a military
mission to step up the construction of shelters, while charities campaign to provide tents.

However
Port-au-Prince is running out of space to pitch new tents, which take
up more room than makeshift shelters: "Tents are great, but they
basically impede the process of economic development and
reconstruction," Lewis Lucke, the US special co-ordinator, told CBC
news.

Tens thousands of Haitians have
meanwhile fled overseas. However some foreign countries have begun
turning away refugees, leading to fears from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, that they will return to the country and add to local problems.

"We
are concerned about the large numbers of highly vulnerable people,
including the injured and separated or orphaned children," the UNHCR
said yesterday, "Therefore until such time as people can return safely
and sustainability, [we] call on all countries not to return Haitians
and to continue granting interim protection on humanitarian grounds."

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