(Amnesty International Livewire, 19 March 2010)
Haiti – Rice and beans, beans and rice
By Amnesty International delegates in Haiti
It might be one of the most common dishes in Haiti but for the 5,000 persons camped on a football pitch in Jacmel, white rice and beans has been their only daily meal since the earthquake, complaints about the quality or lack of nutrients are rife. Despite the crunching feeling of an empty stomach, many decided not to queue under scorching sun for the three-spoons dished up in a bowl, a jug, even a plastic bag. However, the 34 vats of food were emptied in less than an hour. The distribution of meals attracted camp neighbours, mostly children.
Dozens of women and men were involved in the camp cooking site. The food items were delivered to the camp by the World Food Programme. One of the camp committees decided that instead of distributing food rations to every family, they would cook it and share it amongst everyone.
Some pregnant women we met said they would not eat camp food because they feared being sick due to the poor quality water used for cooking. Taking vitamin pills they received from international doctors operating a basic clinic in the camp on week days caused them stomach aches without any food. Signs of malnutrition were apparent among them.
Scarcity and shortages of potable water are a big concern and all the persons we interviewed pointed out that “water is health, health is life”.
When we visited the camp, the two water bladders provided by one international aid agency were totally flat. The water had run out four days earlier and since then, the delivery truck did not come. A UNPOL officer present during the distribution of meals told us that one of the few trucks delivering water in Jacmel had broken down and it was most probably the same truck that normally delivered water to this camp. Until the water supply is re-established, the camp inhabitants will have to walk a long distance to fetch non-potable water. This was a task traditionally carried out by women and children but given the needs of the camp population, men got involved and agreed that it demanded a strenuous effort.
For others eating rice and beans would be something.
Like many other communities not affected by the earthquake, the village of Las Cahobas, located 70km from Port-au-Prince in the Plateau Central, has welcomed hundreds of displaced people. Most of them live with host families; those who have no family links in the village are reassembled in makeshifts camps and depend on the generosity of local residents. In both cases, they feel forgotten by the State and the international community. Humanitarian aid almost never reaches Las Cahobas.
We visited a family in their little wooden house. Before the earthquake, the household consisted of parents and two children. Two days after the earthquake 34 relatives, friends and acquaintances had moved into their house. Every day the head of the household feeds himself and 37 others from his own income and ensures school attendance for 15 kids.
In the same community, we met a group of 76 displaced people living in an unfinished house. A woman in Port-au-Prince offered to accommodate them there: They accepted, as the alternative was sleeping on the streets of the capital. When they moved to Las Cahobas they never imagined that two months later, they would still be dependent on the woman’s generosity in order to eat.
Both for the 38-person household and the 76 displaced people lodged in the unfinished house, receiving a few bags of rice and beans would at least give them some reassurance that the State will respond to their needs.
Food is not the only right they claim. They all realise that the State is failing them, as their right to essential health services and to adequate shelter are far from fulfilled. Children are also clear about their demand: They want to go to school and in order to do that, they only claim some clean clothes and a pair of shoes.