The number reverberated in my head all day. Sixty three. I couldn’t believe it. After spending several hours in a massive IDP camp in the hills north of Port-au-Prince, that number came back to me again and again.
Of course, that number means nothing to you. Yet…
One in six Haitians is living in a tent community right now. An unbelievable statistic.
I’m going to list three numbers. 21, 1, and 10,000.
By themselves, they’re just… well, numbers. Without any sort of story behind them, they lack power.
But now let me give these numbers a bit of made up context. “I just turned 21!” “We’re pregnant with baby number 1.” “I just won $10,000!!!”
Immediately, those numbers now carry weight and power far beyond the digits themselves. 21 invokes memories of awakening adulthood, 1 brings up deep emotions of parenthood, and 10,000 makes us dream about what we would do with such an unexpected windfall…
Well, since arriving in Haiti I have encountered many numbers. Big numbers, small numbers… each one tells a story. But, like the examples above, they need a little context to fully reveal their power.
A panorama of one of the massive IDP camps in Port-au-Prince. Click the image to explore the full-size picture.
So that’s what I’m going to do… I’m going to tell you the stories behind the numbers. I hope that in the process it will help you better understand what life is really like here.
This is the number of Haitians living in temporary structures right now. 1.3 million. To put this number in perspective, think of it this way. That’s 15% of the population. No, not the population of Port-au-Prince. The population of Haiti.
One in six Haitians is, at this moment, living in a tent or under a tarp.
When I first heard this statistic, it was hard to get my head around. But then I thought about all the tent camps I had visited since arriving. I thought about the thousands of tents and tarps I drove by in tap-taps. I thought about the huge families crammed into tiny tents in Dadadou.
And suddenly it didn’t seem so unbelievable.
Rubble. A familiar sight throughout the city…
This is the percent of rubble cleared in Port-au-Prince. 2%. It’s more than eight months after the earthquake, and only a tiny fraction of the city’s devastation has been cleaned up, much less rebuilt!
Wandering through the streets of the city as I have these past few weeks, it’s not hard to understand why. Clean-up crews (a rare sight indeed) are clearing the rubble by hand. They are literally using shovels, pickaxes and hammers to clear away the debris.
But a lack of heavy equipment is only one of the problems here. Because of poor recordkeeping and multiple layers of bureaucracy, not to mention the chaos caused by dead or displaced homeowners, it is next to impossible for work crews to get permission to begin their work.
And on top of all these obstacles, there is the grim and disturbing reality that there are still bodies under the rubble. Health, sanitation and proper disposal of contaminated wreckage are all factors at play.
The road to recovery will be a long one…
This number represents Haiti’s unemployment rate before the earthquake. 70% of Haitians did not have jobs. What must the number be now that the economy is in tatters?
Something I’ll probably never understand about the Haitian people… smiles in the midst of extraordinary hardship!
The evidence of this fact is everywhere you look here. Many, many people spend their days just sitting around. There is literally no work for them. Others choose to work all day in the blazing sun, even though they may not get any money from their work.
Just a simple drive in a tap tap can show you all you need to see…
Young men wiping the dust off cars with rags, hoping with all their hearts for a bit of loose change…
Women with baskets on their heads, trying to sell simple bars of soap…
Men selling juice in recycled water and coke bottles…
…people desperate for anything to get by.
Like I said earlier, this is a number that is absolutely messing with me right now.
While walking through a massive IDP camp the other day, my translator Denis and I met a man named Louran Kivo. Louran is a committee leader for a section of the camp. He told us about the widespread hunger and the lack of clean drinking water there (no surprise after the things I had witnessed in Dadadou). He told us about the lack of jobs.
But then he told us something that left me absolutely stunned: women and girls in the camp, desperate to eat, have begun selling their bodies… some for as little as 25 gourdes.
In US dollars, that’s $0.63.
How could it get to this point?
Sixty three cents.
When I heard this, tears welled up in my eyes and questions filled my head. How desperate would a woman have to be to prostitute her body for less than a dollar? How could this be happening two hours off the coast of Florida?
Or for that matter, how could I, from the richest country in the world, have let it get to this point?
The next number, I believe, will help us answer that question…
Zero stands for a couple of things.
First, there have been zero news stories about Haiti this past week on CNN, Fox News or MSNBC (at least on their televised programs). The fact is, Haiti is no longer a profitable topic to cover. America has moved on.
Zero also stands for the number of aid organizations I bumped into while living and traveling around the tent villages. Sure, I saw plenty of logos on tarps and tents. Sure, I saw a handful of Worldvision or UNICEF cars driving around town.
But in the many tent communities I visited during my week and a half with the IDPs, I didn’t see a single international organization distributing food, purifying water supplies or constructing new shelters. Every time I asked people whether anyone was still distributing food, the answer was always the same…
The church service at Nehemiah Vision Ministries where hundreds of people gather weekly. It’s a beacon of hope in a desperate place!
But while many aid organizations (big and small) are scaling back or pulling out of Haiti, I know of one that is actually ramping up…
Nehemiah Vision Ministries.
NVM isn’t big. It isn’t flashy. But it is here to stay. Acting as a hub for other relief organizations, distributing food to IDPs, and above all continuing its pre-earthquake mission of transforming the poverty-stricken community around Chambrun, NVM will have an impact that will last for generations.
I’ll be writing more about NVM’s work in a future article, but for now, just know this: it is only one ministry with one vision in one community…
…but there can be great power in the number one!