Photographers' Blog

Slow change in Haiti

In the weeks since I arrived in Port-au-Prince to cover the earthquake, the streets have been cleared of debris and thousands of bodies have been removed from the rubble. But in many ways, the changes seem incremental.

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In Cite Soleil a small improvised camp looks a lot the same, only it’s grown in size. Thousands of families continue living under blue plastic tarps, and they receive food from aid groups fighting against time as the rainy season approaches. When I left, on March 1, the food distribution at least was much more organized, watched over by American soldiers. The food just goes to women now, in an attempt to get aid to nuclear families instead of those who shove the hardest.

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About a month after the earthquake, on a trip to Titanyen, the site where some 100,000 were buried in mass graves north of the city, I saw a small group of Haitians with sticks and stones. They were trying to mark off land in order to build there in the future. There was nothing else, just gravel. No services at all.

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I went back right before leaving Haiti and I discovered, like fruit trees that grow on arid land, a hundred or so tents. It seemed like the birth of a village. I wondered if one day it might grow into a city.

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The streets of Port-au-Prince are still chaotic, but in a different way. Before it was almost impossible to get around because of all the rubble in the roads. Now they are cleared, but they’re clogged with traffic, and with bulldozers trying to remove what remains of crumbled buildings.

The Devil on the loose in Haiti

The incessant drone of the motorcycle under me becomes distant as my mind creates images from the words of an elderly woman in the camp I just visited. “The Devil is on the loose in Haiti. He turns into a dog, a pig or a hen, to move unnoticed in the camps and devour life. Last night he appeared as a dog and took the life of a child.” In the camp everyone knows and speaks of the death, and the strange disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Every form that I have ever imagined devilish beings to take are banished from my mind when this Devil appears. He has become a 7-day diarrhea that “devoured” the life of the child. Is it easier to explain death in the hands of a demon instead of looking around and thinking that it might have been the lack of water, hygiene and food that snatched the life?

A Haitian man takes a bath on a destroyed street at Port-au-Prince February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The destitution of the Haitian people hits me everywhere I turn. In none of the camps I visited is there a face that doesn’t show the mark of poverty. “The city looks like it was bombed,” says the security expert who accompanies me daily. There is no building, house or street that doesn’t show the effects of nature’s strength. They really were bombed – bombarded by political violence, illiteracy, unemployment, AIDS and extreme poverty. The quake did nothing more than expose to the world the indigence of an entire nation.

Haiti, destroyed and desperate

I crossed the border into Haiti from the Dominican Republic 36 hours after the earthquake hit. As we drove closer to Port-au-Prince, we began to see scenes of destruction and suffering, which only multiplied as we entered the city covered in smoke and in shock.

Residents walk at a destroyed area after a major earthquake hit the capital Port-au-Prince, January 14, 2010. Troops and planeloads of food and medicine streamed into Haiti on Thursday to aid a traumatized nation still rattled by aftershocks from the catastrophic earthquake that flattened homes and government buildings and buried countless people.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
My first sensation was of absolute powerlessness; the pain, chaos and destruction were so overwhelming it seemed impossible to register it all. It was hard to know where to start, to find the exact words to describe everything that was happening and continues to happen. To translate all that it into images is a huge challenge.

Corpses of earthquake victims lie in a mass grave located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince January 15, 2010. Thousands of people left hurt or homeless in Haiti's earthquake begged for food, water and medical assistance on Friday as the world rushed to deliver aid to survivors before their despair turned to anger. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
 
I had never been in a tragedy of this magnitude, or seen anything close. Every day that passed we realized the dimension of the destruction was even greater. Every time I explored what was behind a wall, in a garden or a plaza, inside a field hospital or in the ruins of a house, there would be more children who urgently needed food and medicine, more desperate men and women with no hope for the future.

Scenes from Haiti

The numbers from Haiti are staggering. Authorities say the death toll is likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000. Already, 75,000 bodies have been buried in mass graves. 1.5 million residents are homeless . Families have been torn apart. Neighborhoods have been flattened. The government has nearly ceased to exist. But numbers can tell only a small part of the story. Scenes of the devastation in Haiti are filling airwaves and newspapers around the world, triggering a flood of compassion and donations.

Click here for a selection of some of the most striking images captured by our own Reuters’ photographers. An injured child receives medical treatment in Port-au-Prince, January 13, 2010.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

An injured child receives medical treatment in Port-au-Prince, January 13, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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