Hundreds of thousands of people are living and sleeping on the ground in Port au Prince. Many have no homes, their homes destroyed by the earthquake. I am sleeping on the ground as well – surrounded by nurses, doctors and humanitarian workers who sleep on the ground every night. The buildings that are not on the ground have big cracks in them and fallen sections so no one should be sleeping inside.
There are sheet cities everywhere. Not tent cities. Sheet cities. Old people and babies and everyone else under sheets held up by ropes hooked onto branches pounded into the ground.
With the rainy season approaching, one of the emergency needs of Haitians is to get tents. I have seen hundreds of little red topped Coleman pup tents among the sheet shelters. There are tents in every space, from soccer fields and parks to actually in the streets. There is a field with dozens of majestic beige tents from Qatar marked Islamic Relief. But real tents are outnumbered by sheet shelters by a ratio of 100 to 1.
Rescues continue but the real emergency remains food, water, healthcare and shelter for millions.
Though helicopters thunder through the skies, actual relief of food and water and shelter remains mimimal to non-existent in most neighborhoods.
Haitians are helping Haitians. Young men have organized into teams to guard communities of homeless families. Women care for their own children as well as others now orphaned. Tens of thousands are missing and presumed dead.
The scenes of destruction boggle the mind. The scenes of homeless families, overwhelmingly little children, crush the heart.
But hope remains. Haitians say and pray that God must have a plan. Maybe Haiti will be rebuilt in a way that allows all Haitians to participate and have a chance at a dignified life with a home, a school, and a job.
One young Haitian man said, “One good sign is the solidarity of the world. Muslim doctors, Jewish doctors, Christian doctors all come to help us. We see children in Gaza collecting toys for Haitian children. It looks very bad right now, but this is a big opportunity for the world and Haiti to change and do good together.”
BILL QUIGLEY is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.