Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waiting for Tropical Storm Emily

View from the Pacot Hills of Port-au-Prince at 7am, Wed, Aug 3, 2011               
View from the Pacot Hills at 7pm the same day. Tropical Storm Emily approaches.            

Currently located in Port-au-Prince on a short work trip, I and my ActionAid colleagues are preparing for Tropical Storm Emily, which is due to hit Haiti within the next few hours. For us, this storm means buying more food and water, taking extra precautions and tightly closing up the guesthouse where we’re staying. For the 650,000 Haitians still living under tents, though, it means praying for the storm to take another path. Even if the storm goes further west, though, it most assuredly means that heavy rains will fall, and the people will continue to suffer flooding and increased cholera.

As the storm approaches, I cannot stop thinking about Marie Charles. Marie Charles Juste Luce Saintilmé, a member of the grassroots network, COZPAM, (Association of Community Organizations in the Metropolitan Area of Port-au-Prince), is a member of an IDP Camp in Mariani, just outside of Haiti. An experienced, registered nurse who lost her home during the earthquake, Marie Charles is fighting to protect women’s health, security and power to make a difference in Haiti IDP camps.

Marie Charles Juste Luce Santilme 

Just yesterday, Marie Charles contacted me with this perspective on the effects of the previous month’s rains. “On July 12, there was an enormous rainfall, which caused the death of a young girl whose tent was flooded near our community. In the community of Gressier, just 10 kilometers away, people are being forced to leave their camps in the middle of the night, even while it is raining…incoming storms just prove that we cannot continue to live in tents like these any longer.”

Marie Charles is right. The Haitian people cannot continue to live in this manner…under flimsy tents that do not protect them from the hot sun, drenching rains or desperate gangs.

“We have the right to a decent life, which implies a safe place to live. We are the only ones in charge of our destiny. We have the responsibility to change our living conditions by advocating to the government to change policies and reduce the imbalances in the society.” - Marie Charles

Some of those urgently needed policies include a solid national housing plan that outlines exactly how to secure affordable, safe, long-term housing for people currently living under tents. Such a plan, however, can only work if it is created and implemented in direct partnership with Haitian grassroots, civil society and women's groups. These are the networks that work closest with poor and marginalized people and can help amplify their voices. As Tropical Storm Emily decides its next move, we must do the same. Now is the time to speak up to our respective governments and ask them to listen to and work directly with the Haitian people on a housing plan that prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable.