Canada: Attawapiskat Citizens In Desperate Need of Housing -Some are Living in Tents

Canada: Attawapiskat Housing Crisis A Serious Risk To Women, Children, Elders

By Ahni Nov 22, 2011

Children living in un-insulated tents; families relying on buckets for toilets; elders living in sheds–these are some of the conditions witnessed by Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson on a tour through Attawapiskat this month.

For almost two years, the Attawapiskat First Nation has been facing a severe housing shortage. As MP Charlie Angus recently witnessed first-hand, there are several families on the reserve who are living in makeshift shelters including uninsulated tents, converted garages, temporary trailers and deteriorating homes filled with Stachybotrys chartarum–a fungi more commonly known as black mold.

Some of the shelters have no heat, electricity, or plumbing of any kind. Some don’t even have toilets, so instead people are using plastic buckets, which they are dumping into nearby ditches.

With winter fast approaching, the housing shortage is turning into the kind of crisis that humanitarian aid groups would normally flock to in droves, if it was happening in Haiti or Darfur. But the Cree Fist Nation isn’t in Haiti, it’s in Canada. And Canada is basically doing nothing. In fact, these days the government seems more interested in spying on Cindy Blackstock and shutting down native healing centres than actually helping and working with Indigenous Peoples.

In response to the ongoing crisis, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence recently declared a state of emergency, in which she pleaded for the government to step in and, if necessary, lead an emergency evacuation to ensure everyone’s health and safety. The government said no.

It probably came as no surprise to Chief Spence, given the way Canada has dealt with Attawapiskat in recent years. For instance, in 2009, another state of emergency was declared after INAC finally stepped in to clean up a 30,000 gallon oil spill from the 1970s. The mass of oil had accumulated directly beneath the community’s school grounds.

Some 30 years later, children at the school started getting sick, leaving Attawapiskat with no choice but to abandon the building. INAC responded by providing a new makeshift school a few metres away; but the actual clean up didn’t begin for another nine years.

In 2009, INAC demolished the old school and left an “open wound” at the center of the community, which it covered with a tarp.

Soon after that, community members started complaining of headaches, nausea, skin rashes, nosebleeds and chronic diarrhea. In the makeshift school, some children were said to be just “passing out”.

Canada did nothing. In fact, then-INAC Minster Chuck Strahl even went so far as to say that the whole situation was little more than a publicity stunt being propped up “on the backs of needy aboriginal people.”

This time around, the Canadian government appears to be acting a shade more reasonably, but only a shade. They recently promised to give the First Nation $500,000 to renovate 15 houses; but that’s it. Federal officials haven’t even bothered to visit the community. And who knows how long that will take for that fund to go through; never mind the fact that almost half of the houses on the reserve need renovations or are condemned.

In a frustrating twist, Attawapiskat happens to be in the shadow of the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine, which extracts about 600,000 carats per year.

Attawapiskat is getting an undisclosed amount of money from De Beers; however, Chief Spence says the bulk of that money goes directly into a trust fund which they can’t access for housing. Chief Spence is trying to renegotiate with De Beers, but those negotiations don’t appear to be going anywhere. Source

The Canadian government says it has given Attawapiskat roughly $90 million since 2006. However, documents from the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada show Attawapiskat only received $4.3 million in funding for housing since 2006. Source

Someone is not being truthful. Which is it?

I am guessing they only received $4.3 million.

Harper’s government is not to reliable when it comes to facts.

Even if they did get $90,000,000

Divided by 6 years

=  $15,000.000 per year

Divided by 1,800 citizens

= $8,333 per person per year = about

$694 per month per person

When you bring it down to reality it really isn’t very much.

That money of course does not go to the people. Some does, but not it all.

A few things money is used for in Northern Communities.

They have to bring in most of what they use.

Shipping is a huge cost.

Snow Removal.

Building maintenance for schools or should I say school and portables.

They need an air port.

Have to pay the teachers, janitors etc.

Have to pay for the Health Care workers.

Have to pay the airport personnel and maintenance.

Have to pay for road maintenance employees.

Those are just a few of the things not all. There are many more if I took the time to really think about it.

The cost of living in Attawapiskat is quite high, due to the expense of shipping goods to the community.

Local stores include the Northern Store and M. Koostachin & Sons (1976). More than a third of the residents occasionally place orders for perishables and other goods which are shipped in via aircraft from Timmins, and for which the residents make prepayments with money orders. When their orders arrive, the residents have to pick them up at the local airport. For example, 6 apples and 4 small bottles of juice cost $23.50 (2011-12-01).

The price of gasoline is considerably higher than the provincial average. When the fuel is shipped via winter road, the prices of gasoline and propane tend to drop slightly.

It costs $250,000 to build a house in Attawapiskat and only the Federal Government can build houses on the reserve. . The cost of renovating one condemned house is $50,000-$100,000. A majority of the community members have updated their heating needs, while many households still use dry firewood. Firewood in Attawapiskat costs $150 and $200 a cord, and a cord will heat a winter-bound tent for only a week, or at most 10 days. More information at  Source

Charlie Angus, scrum on Attawapiskat – 111201

Dec 1, 2011

Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay answered questions about the First Nations community of Attawapiskat in crisis – recorded by Samantha Bayard and Ish Theilheimer for Straight Goods News on December 1, 2011 during a scrum on Parliament Hill.

Canadian leadership in Attawapiskat

NDP Canada on Dec 1, 2011

ATTAWAPISKAT HOUSING-CRISIS

Attawapiskat First Nation is on the shores of James Bay Ontario.

Gilles on Attawapiskat Housing crisis

Nov 23 2011

Timmins James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson calls on provincial government to help residents of Attawapiskat

Canada AM – Attawapiskat

This video was taken fall 2010 when my family and I had visited Attawapiskat. Canada AM followed us up, and created this documentary to bring awareness to the housing, food, and ect. crises. since then not much has changed. and the people continue to lose more, and more hope.

Attawapiskat

This video was taken fall 2010

Attawapiskat – where are the promises?

Apr 14, 2009

Attawapiskat is the home of the Mushkegowuk (swampy) Cree that is situated on the west coast of James Bay. The community has been exposed to toxic fumes dating back to 30 years. Since 1979, about 30, 000 gallons of hydrocarbon oil spill has occured underneath the old school grounds. In the year 2000, there were health concerns of children and the staff getting sick. This resulted the closure of the old school. INAC build temporary portables near the contamination site til the new school was build. The community worked hard in negotiations with INAC and the government to get a new school and finally came to light! There was Hope once again for the children. Everything was in the process until the the new government stepped in 2007. On August 2007, Minister Chuck Strahl became the new Minister for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada under the leadership of the Conservatives. On December 2007, Minister of INAC decided to halt the deal, that left the community devastated. But that didn’t stop the community and the Children, they went as far to having a Human Rights Conference in Toronto. The students argue for a right to a quality education in safe environment in November 2008. Mr. Chuck Strahl was invited but didn’t show up?

Finally on March of 2009 , the old school was demolish under the direction of INAC, exposing the ground once capped by the old building. The contaminated debris wasn’t properly contained and was dump too closed to the community. As for the old building, it wasn’t capped leaving the fumes exposed to the residence. A stench was reported making the students, teachers and the community sick which then resulted to the closing of the schools, shortly by a declared state of emergency from the leaders. A few days later, INAC and Health Canada flew in to meet with the community and listen to the community’s testimonies of getting nausea, headaches, dizziness and skin rashes? The community felt it had to do with the contaminated ground and their water source.

INAC responded that they would take the information back to their Superiors and report back of their decision for further immediate action. Three days later, Attawapiskat was devastated when INAC and Health Canada went to the media and said “There was no iniminent dangers and that the community’s air tested normal?”. The Leaders didn’t buy it! As of April 9, 2009, Attawapiskat is still under state of emergency and have no trust in the government officials. They suspected that something wasn’t right with their findingsl because of all the testimonies that were given at the meeting of people getting sick? That people were dying from cancer too fast, children having skin rashes and the stench of the contaminated oil can still be smell.

Later that week, MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson responded to the urgent call of the Attawapiskat Chief and Council and did their own investigations. They were shock to find out the extent of this urgent matter and confirm the seriousness of addressing the health concerns right away.The next day, Both parties called for a National Press Conference and share their findings. Shortly after, INAC responded by saying, it was just a grandstanding photo-op? Which is not true. The Reps of James Bay-Timmins took soil samples with them and send them to Ottawa to get tested right away, doing INAC and Health Canada’s job for them?? They are calling on independent study by the medical and environmental team. As of today, INAC still refuses to evacuate the reserve even though they asked for immediate action until the remediation was completed and safe. The community was very upset to find out it would take INAC 2 more years to clean up the contamination site which wasn’t acceptable.

Ask yourself this question? Would you find it acceptable from INAC (Indian Northern Affairs of Canada) if they told you everything is fine in your community and there is nothing to worry about? While the children are breaking up in rashes, people getting sick and alot of reports of cancers since 30 years ago? Think about it…..Would you be willing to accept returning your children back to the toxic zone for their education? Would this happen down south? Is it acceptable to be told that it would take 2 years to finish cleaning up the toxic soil after it has been there for 30 years. These schools were under INAC’s watch when the spills happened…… If this reaches you, please help the community and put your government to shame!! Spread this video and let the world know what our Government is doing to their Indigenous People!

Shannen’s Dream of a new school may become reality in 2013. Will it really happen? Well I guess we will have to wait and see.

There have been promises before and still no school for the children.

After 2000, three successive INAC ministers — Robert Nault, Andy Scott and Jim Prentice — promised a new school for Attawapiskat. You can read the full chronology of seven years of negotiations on the departmental website. On April 1, 2008, the new minister, Chuck Strahl, informed AFNEA that Ottawa would not finance the new school after all. Well wasn’t that just the worst slap in the face a bunch of kids could get.
Shannen Koostachin at the National Day of Action on Parliament Hill in May 2008, a rally calling for better schools for First Nations children. The Attawapiskat teenager organized children in her community to lobby for a school to replace the portable classrooms she grew up attending. She was killed in a car accident on June 1 2010 at the age of 15. Photo Courtesy of 8th Fire

8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada and the Way Forward. The four-part series begins airing on CBC television and Radio-Canada on Jan. 12, 2012.

Nov 30, 2011 VIDEO: A view from Attawapiskat before the crisis plus 2 other videos

Canadian Red Cross provides relief in Attawapiskat

The Canadian Red Cross is on the ground in Attawapiskat providing urgently needed aid to vulnerable families in the community.

“Our goal in Attawapiskat is to ensure that the immediate needs of the community are met, which includes making sure families have the supplies they need to survive the winter,” said John Saunders, provincial director of disaster management with the Canadian Red Cross. “We are focused on providing short-term relief to the community.”

The Canadian Red Cross is helping the families of Attawapiskat on the request of the local chief, Theresa Spence, and will continue to work alongside public authorities.

On November 29, a Red Cross team consisting of Saunders and two volunteers from Timmins arrived with preliminary supplies including sleeping bags, heaters and winter clothing. The team is conducting assessments to determine exactly what items and quantities are needed for short-term relief. Once the assessment is complete, the Canadian Red Cross will distribute those supplies.

In Attawapiskat, the Canadian Red Cross has identified families living in tents and wooden sheds without electricity and plumbing in most dwellings. Some homes have power by running extension cords. Some have created make shift wood stoves out of old oil drums, which is a threat to public safety and health.

Government and community officials continue to work to determine long-term solutions.

At the further request of the community, the Canadian Red Cross has taken on a donation management role. Canadians wishing to support immediate needs can make a donation through the Red Cross online, by phone by calling 1-800-418-111 or in person at their local Red Cross office. Red Cross.Ca

Libya took better care of it’s people then Canada does.  Canada helped Carpet Bomb them back to the stone ages and could afford to do that but not help their own people.

Did You Know

1. There is no electricity bill in Libya; electricity is free for all its citizens.
2. There is no interest on loans, banks in Libya are state-owned and loans given to all its citizens at zero percent interest by law.
3. Having a home considered a human right in Libya.
4. All newlyweds in Libya receive $60,000 dinar (U.S.$50,000) by the government to buy their first apartment so to help start up the family.
5. Education and medical treatments are free in Libya. Before Gaddafi only 25 percent of Libyans were literate. Today, the figure is 83 percent.
6. Should Libyans want to take up farming career, they would receive farming land, a farming house, equipments, seeds and livestock to kickstart their farms are all for free.
7. If Libyans cannot find the education or medical facilities they need, the government funds them to go abroad, for it is not only paid for, but they get a U.S.$2,300/month for accommodation and car allowance.
8. If a Libyan buys a car, the government subsidizes 50 percent of the price.
9. The price of petrol in Libya is $0.14 per liter.
10. Libya has no external debt and its reserves amounting to $150 billion are now frozen globally.
11. If a Libyan is unable to get employment after graduation the state would pay the average salary of the profession, as if he or she is employed, until employment is found.
12. A portion of every Libyan oil sale is credited directly to the bank accounts of all Libyan citizens.
13. A mother who gives birth to a child receive U.S.$5,000.
14. 40 loaves of bread in Libya costs $0.15.
15. 25 percent of Libyans have a university degree.
16. Gaddafi carried out the world’s largest irrigation project, known as the Great Manmade River project, to make water readily available throughout the desert country.
17 Women’s Rights: Under Gaddafi, gender discrimination was officially banned and the literacy rate for women climbed to 83 per cent. The rights of Black’s were also improved. Source

All that has been destroyed.

Recent

Canada: Mohawk Elders looking for mass graves of Children that died in Residential Schools

US wants to Censor the Internet

Over 7,000 prisoners are held in Libya

Canada: Stop Harper’s cruel crime bill

There are a number of Videos in the link below on How Americans Factory Farm Animals. Unbelievable cruelty.

McDonald’s drops U.S. egg supplier over ‘disturbing’ animal-cruelty video

War Crimes Tribunal finds Bush and Blair are war criminals

US Lawmakers Corruption “Busted”

Indonesian Citizens Protest Obama’s Visit to Bali

Israel Violating Egyptian Airspace to attack Gaza

January 12 2009

An increasing number of news reports have confirmed that despite claims by Cairo, Israeli warplanes have been entering Egyptian airspace.
Reuters has cited witnesses as saying that Israeli planes conducting Gaza attack operations have flown into Egypt on several occasions.

According to the Reuters, Israeli planes often fly at such low altitude that it leaves no doubt that they are over Egyptian territory.

CNN reported that two pairs of Israeli F-16 fighter jets that were on bombing runs in southern Gaza violated Egyptian airspace.

“We can tell they’re coming through Egyptian airspace because they’re over the far side of the building where we’re standing,” CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported from Rafah, Egypt. He was atop a building about 500 meters (547 yards) from the Gaza border.

Four Egyptians, including two children, were wounded on Sunday when Israeli warplanes targeted tunnels on the common border between Gaza and Egypt.

The tunnels are considered as the lifeline of the Palestinian territory, allowing Gazans to bring in food, fuel and medical supplies for the 1.5 million residents of the blockaded strip.

Israel says the tunnels are being used to smuggle weapons and explosives into the territory.

CNN report confirms that Israeli F-16s have at least once bombed between the border fences of Gaza and Egypt.

Egypt is seen throughout the Middle East as Israel’s main accomplice in the imposition of the 18-month Israeli blockade on Gaza and has been subject to severe criticism.

Popular Hezbollah leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday slammed Egypt, saying Cairo gives its “full cooperation and intelligence to Israel and the US in order to force others into submission.”

Israel waged war on Gaza on December 27. So far, at least 900 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive and more than 4000 have been wounded.

Egypt claims it has not given Israel permission to violate its airspace.

Source

Egypt has allowed dozens of doctors along with some medical supplies pass through Rafah border crossing and enter the Gaza Strip.

“Some 61 Arab doctors and trucks loaded with medical aids crossed into the Gaza Strip through Rafah border crossing”, Al-Jazeera Television said on Monday.

This is the first time Egypt has allowed humanitarian and medical aids into the impoverished Strip, in dire need of medical supplies.

Many volunteer doctors and physicians have been waiting in Rafah for days, without being allowed passage into Gaza, to help the almost 4,000 people wounded by Israeli bombs and heavy weapons.

“Three thousand victims of bombs and gunfire would overwhelm the medical system of New York city,” Dr. Nicolas Doussis-Rassias, a volunteer said.

“Gaza now has no functioning medical system at all. Most of it has no electricity, nor running water. These people are in crisis – they need medical help, so we are here to help them,” he added.


Protests continue in Rafah border

Since the Israeli assault on Gaza began on December 27, more than 900 people have been killed – including 277 children – and another 4,080 have been wounded.

The conflict has sparked worldwide pro-Palestinian demonstrations, raising concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where most of the 1.5 million residents depend on foreign aid for their basic supplies.

Source

Israel continues to attack Hospitals, Clinics and Public Buildings in Gaza

UK firm blasted for arming Israeli military

Embargo against Israel: Spreading Willingness in the Middle East

Israeli settlers apply for Canadian Visas

Samouni family recounts Gaza horror

US delivering more “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to Israel

79 % of the time: Israel caused conflicts not Hamas

Gaza Reports from: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

Reports from: “Save the Children Canada” Charity in Gaza

Gaza (1): A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Gaza War Why?: Natural Gas valued at over $4 billion MAYBE?

Indexed List of all Stories in Archives

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm  Comments Off on Israel Violating Egyptian Airspace to attack Gaza  
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Haiti’s road to ruin

Tallulah Photography

This season’s hurricanes have made homes in Gonaïves, Haiti, unlivable, and conditions primed for environmental disaster will lead to more ecological refugees.

December 11, 2008
By Roberta Staley

Few are helping Haitians recover from natural disaster-and still fewer see the bigger problem

The drive north to Gonaïves from Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince is calculated in time rather than distance-it can take from three-and-a-half to five hours, depending upon rain and your four-wheel-drive’s suspension, to navigate the 150 kilometres of erosion-gnawed road that skirt the country’s coastline.

But nothing on the journey—not the cavernous potholes, trenches, or caved-in shoulders—prepares you for the apocalyptic dried-mud moonscape that is Gonaïves. More than two months after hurricanes Fay, Gustav, and Ike and tropical storm Hanna battered Haiti from August 17 to September 8, Gonaïves is barely better off than it was right after the tempests.

Mounds of dried mud cover city streets that United Nations tanks, motorcycles, and SUVs churn into thick dust that hangs like a grey-beige fog. Starving dogs, their vertebrae and ribs jutting through dry, pale hide, skirt among the wheels in a single-minded search for food, sometimes dragging limbs crushed by lurching vehicles.

The hurricanes skinned Gonaïves’s surrounding hills and mountains—denuded of trees for decades—as deftly as a taxidermist, allowing unfettered rivers of topsoil, clay, and water to submerge 80 percent of the city in goop more than a storey high. When the water evaporated, two-metre-deep mud remained. At least 466 people perished from August to September—more than double the number of people who were killed in the rest of the country. As of November, many of the surrounding rice, banana, and plantain fields were still flooded, as were homes on the outskirts of the city. (In total, about 70 percent of Haiti’s crops were wiped out, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.)

Bulldozers have started the cumbersome task of shifting tonnes of topsoil and clay from roadways, manoeuvring around overturned and crushed vehicles encased in mud like fossils. Some of the 300,000 residents who have returned to find the walls of their one- and two-room houses still standing are using shovels to dig out the thick, cracking earth, leaving chunks mixed with rotting trash outside doorways. But the homes are unlivable, and families dwell in tents on rooftops, leaving the city’s 40,000 female-headed households vulnerable to sexual predators. Too few trucks carry the mud away, and much of it is simply pushed into hills in the middle of intersections or along one side, creating a surreal version of a giant child’s sandbox.

But it is international apathy—as well as mud—that has Médecins Sans Frontières–Belgium (MSF–B) project coordinator Vikki Stienen so frustrated. Stienen, who is Dutch, arrived in Gonaïves in October, one month after the Nobel Peace Prize–winning NGO arrived to provide emergency medical care to hurricane survivors. MSF–B has managed—minimally—to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of citizens, creating a replacement water system and a new hospital as well as a mobile-clinic system serving the urban and rural populations still isolated by impassable streets and roads. A handsome, almost rakish, man with green eyes and a jagged front tooth, Stienen was given the task of creating a temporary replacement for the destroyed water and sanitation systems. With the water mains clogged with mud, MSF–B sends several tanker trucks of water every day from a deep well it drilled in September outside the city. The tankers drain chlorinated water into pipes that link to bladders, enormous canvas water containers that, in turn, are linked to communal taps scattered throughout the city.

With the project set to end January 15, the MSF–B team is working desperately to try to ensure the rudimentary water system is expanded and can be maintained by local government workers. However, with the city still blanketed by mud, it is impossible to create any sort of sanitation system, Stienen says. Without toilets, people relieve themselves in the street and behind the mud mounds, with the result that dried excrement mixes with the dust-laden air. Rebuilding the sanitation system is dependent upon all the mud being cleared away, a task that could take a year, Stienen says.

MSF–B feels isolated and overwhelmed by the need; MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, should be doing more, Stienen says. “You don’t like to bash the UN, but we had a coordination meeting and you would think they were talking about something else,” says Stienen, leaning back, loose-limbed, in a white plastic chair in the shade, dressed in wide-leg linen pants, brightly coloured loose shirt, and red flip-flops in the more than 30 ° C heat. “Other NGOs and the UN, you see their reaction and it’s as if they don’t care. Where does this apathy come from? Why are they so indifferent?”

Before the hurricanes, most of Gonaïves’s 300,000 citizens obtained their water from about 5,000 communal wells. However, these are also contaminated with mud and must be cleaned out and fitted with new pumps, something MSF–B is also trying to do before it withdraws. “Normally,” Stienen says, “this would be the World Health Organization who would do this, but they’re not here either.”

Stienen is especially worried by the UN’s apparent inability to ensure the safety of the citizens of Gonaïves. The incidence of rape is so high among women, perched on roofs with their children in the dark, that MSF–B has added a psychologist to its mobile clinic to provide trauma counselling. “You ask them, ‘How long will you sit on your roof?’ They say, ‘We are forgotten by the government and the UN,’ ” Stienen says. “This is not security, to sit on the roof with no electricity. So it adds to my question: ‘Is the government and UN taking it seriously?’ ”

Stienen muses that what lies at the root of international apathy is simple cynicism over Haiti’s propensity for disaster. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, weathered a severe storm four years ago when hurricane Jeanne killed about 3,000 people. Foreign aid rebuilt the water and sanitation system in Gonaïves and the international community faces the obligation of rebuilding it once more. Once it’s constructed, it is only a matter of time before more hurricanes destroy it again. “People say Haiti is complicated, but this is not a reason not to care,” Stienen says. “Maybe that’s where the apathy comes from, because this country is unmanageable.”

Brazil’s Maj.-Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, force commander of MINUSTAH since January 2007, addresses the question of security several days later in an interview in Port-au-Prince. In Gonaïves, the main task of the local UN force, which consists of about 500 Argentine and Pakistani troops as well as local police, is to maintain a safe environment, but “in practice we keep the stability through support of the local police,” Santos Cruz says.

During the hurricanes, he says, UN troops threw themselves into humanitarian assistance: evacuating patients from La Providence Hospital (a once-pretty white-and-green facility, renovated after the 2004 hurricane, that is now mired in dried, grey muck), saving the medicines, and assisting birthing women. Now, Santos Cruz says, the main focus is guarding the warehouse where supplies are stored for the World Food Programme (WFP), which allocated US$33 million for emergency food supplies at the beginning of September. (Only one-third of this amount has been forthcoming from member states.) However, Stienen condemned a decision by the WFP to stop distributing food after fights broke out at a depot weeks after the hurricanes. The WFP cited mismanagement of the depots and a lack of safety as reasons for stopping distribution. WFP Haiti spokesperson Hilary Clarke says that the UN organization still managed to deliver food to women staying in shelters in Gonaïves.

Regular food distribution has resumed, Clarke says, and virtually all of Gonaïves’s citizens are receiving food packages every two weeks containing such staples as rice, beans, and oil, most of it imported from the United States. Still, some children have sickened from lack of food and show signs of protein starvation, called kwashiorkor: reddish, thinning hair; enlarged abdomen; sad, sagging faces; stick-thin arms and legs; and edema so severe it cracks the skin. At MSF–B’s new Hôpital Secours Gonaïves, built in a warehouse once used by the humanitarian group CARE, 15-month-old Cindjina sits on the lap of her mother, Thelse Almonur, in the pediatric ward. Cindjina was 5.9 kilograms, the average weight of a two-month-old, when she was admitted September 27. Thelse is feeding her daughter a peanut-butter paste mixed with vitamins. The paste has helped Cindjina gain weight and, six weeks later, she is up to 6.5 kilograms, still four kilograms below the average weight for her age.

Generally, about one-third of children in Haiti suffer from chronic malnutrition. However, a recent survey by the aid organization Action Contre la Faim showed the malnutrition level in Gonaïves to be about four percent, due in large part to the large-scale food distribution, Clarke says.

Stienen shakes his head. “In Gonaïves, you see more than chronic malnutrition. It is a weakened population, with the most vulnerable being the children. Those families with four to five children, they suffer the most.”

The future does not look promising for Gonaïves’s people. National food shortages have put the country in a “highly volatile situation”, according to the WFP’s Bettina Luescher, speaking from her UN office in New York City. The WFP is planning to begin phasing out food distribution in Gonaïves in 2009 to “avoid creating a context of assistance and food dependency”.

Some people think that a simple solution to this enormous problem would be to move Gonaïves, which sits below sea level at the confluence of three rivers, to higher ground. Stienen laughs humourlessly at the notion; this will never happen, he says. There are neither sufficient resources nor the political will to relocate 300,000 souls up the steep, bare, infertile, erosion-prone hills and mountains.

What lies at the root of this dilemma? Environmental degradation caused by the wholesale cutting of trees. A century ago, Haiti was a tropical rainforest with huge stands of mahogany. However, 20th-century exploitation by foreign corporations and the Haitian government’s need to service an egregious national debt owed its former slave-owning colonial master, France, meant that much of the forest cover was felled for cash. Now only 1.5 percent of the country is forested, according to the UN—a sharp contrast to the lush Dominican Republic, a country adjoining Haiti on the same West Indies island.

But the people of Haiti are also responsible for deforestation. The majority of Haiti’s 9.5 million people rely upon charcoal for cooking; most electricity is privately generated and there is no gas or kerosene. Charcoal is made by cutting down a tree, leaving it to dry in the sun, then slowly cooking it in a makeshift kiln. In an effort to preserve the life of the tree, the stump is left, with the hope it will send out shoots. This woeful attempt at silviculture is largely unsuccessful. In the area around Gonaïves, Stienen says, there are fewer trees than there were in 2004.

The string of environmental disasters experienced by Gonaïves, as well as other places around the world, is giving rise to a world phenomenon: ecological refugees. Rising sea levels and more destructive cyclones and hurricanes that experts link to global warming, as well as widespread deforestation and erosion, have created populations of desperate people fleeing disasters. In Gonaïves, for example, Stienen estimates that there are only 10,000 male-headed households, one quarter the number of female-headed families. The rest of the men have fled to other countries for jobs and a more secure life. However, their families cannot follow and are left to carry on a life of struggle and, possibly, worse hunger than they face now.

But fleeing can be as dangerous as staying. No one knows this better than 22-year-old Timanit Cherisma. Cherisma lies silent on her side in the obstetrics ward of the MSF–B hospital, an intravenous drip in one arm. Just an hour ago, Cherisma gave birth to twin girls. But there is no joy in the room, and the only sound is muted mewing, like new kittens, from the twins, bound in a blue blanket on a cot. The father of the infants died after his boat capsized while he was fleeing Haiti to try to find work in the Bahamas. The twins have no home to go to—it was washed away in the flood. “I see no hope for the babies,” Cherisma’s mother, 48-year-old Tazilia Esenvile, says in Creole.

Back in Port-au-Prince, a handful of courageous people are making an 11th-hour attempt to turn back the tide of total environmental degradation in Haiti, which, at 27,750 square kilometres, is about three-quarters the size of Vancouver Island. The Fondation Seguin was cofounded in 2004 by Serge Cantave to try to save the country’s last remaining pockets of natural forest and to educate teachers and youth about conservation. Through its Ecole Verte program, a sense of responsibility toward the environment is also being cultivated when students travel to mountain regions to plant trees. To date, 30,000 trees have been planted by students, says Cantave, whose organization is financially supported by the development organization Yéle Haiti, headed by Haitian-American hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean.

Without reforestation, Haiti will simply wash away into the ocean. “It will disappear,” says Cantave, who estimates it will take a century of dedicated tree-planting to reverse the clear-cutting. The way this can be achieved, Cantave says, is for the Fondation Seguin to work with an international network of ecological groups. Cantave looks to British Columbia, which has spawned generations of dedicated environmentalists, for help in coordinating tree-planting programs and educating Haiti’s young. “We are asking you to share with us your experiences,” Cantave says. “We are begging the international community for support.” (Another organization, the Lambi Fund of Haiti, which is allied to Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize–winner Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement, has plans to plant one million trees.)

Haiti, despite the meagre streaks of green across its topography, is important internationally for its unique biodiversity: it is a potential source of medicinal plants and a key resting and feeding place for migrating birds, Cantave says. For example, Canada’s black-throated blue warbler, which breeds in southeastern Canada but winters in the Caribbean, stops in Haiti’s Parc National La Visite, a 2,000-hectare oasis. (Haiti’s national parks include Sources Puantes, at 10 hectares; Sources Chaudes, 20 hectares; Forêt des Pins, 30,000 hectares; Sources Cerisier, 10 hectares; and Fort Jacques et Alexandre, which is only nine hectares.)

Some support has been forthcoming. The German international-cooperation enterprise Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit recently donated about $800,000 to the Fondation Seguin for a special project to plant 120,000 fruit, evergreen, and spice trees, as well as pasture grass to retain the soil. Cantave says the project is married to economic and infrastructure development for surrounding subsistence farmers to encourage them to support reforestation efforts.

Is Haiti doomed to be a country of no hope? Many, it would seem, despair that Haiti’s political, economic, social, and ecological wrongs will keep it in a state of desperation that will never be overcome. Yet if history has proven anything, it is that human will is an unstoppable force. People like Stienen and Cantave, with their sense of moral outrage, are an inspiration to the rest of the world to show the will to help Haiti overcome the myriad of problems afflicting its beleaguered people.

Source

MSF/Doctors Without Boarders Canada