We go to Haiti for an update on the humanitarian situation after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the country’s southwestern peninsula Saturday. The government has declared a state of emergency and says nearly 1,300 people have died and more than 5,700 are injured. Rescue workers are scrambling to find survivors as Tropical Storm Grace is expected to bring heavy rains to the island. Tens of thousands of people in devastated areas are now sleeping on the streets due to unstable buildings that could still collapse amid aftershocks. “It’s just one more item in a very, very long list of traumatic events that the people of Haiti are sustaining,” says Nadesha Mijoba, country director for the Haitian Health Foundation, in Jérémie, near the epicenter of the earthquake. We also speak with Ann Lee, chief executive officer of CORE, Community Organized Relief Effort, who says the earthquake is exposing a larger problem of a “lack of systems and investment in existing systems.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Haiti, where the government has declared a state of emergency after a major 7.2 magnitude earthquake, which hit Haiti’s southwestern peninsula Saturday. Haitian officials say at least 1,300 people have died; close to 6,000 are injured. Rescue workers are scrambling to find survivors as Tropical Storm Grace is barreling towards Haiti, expecting to bring heavy rains. Tens of thousands of people in the devastated areas are now sleeping on the streets due to unstable buildings that could still collapse amidst the aftershocks.
This comes a month after Haiti was plunged into further political turmoil following the assassination of the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse. On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Henry suggested an election set for November could be delayed. Henry had declared a month-long state of emergency in some of Haiti’s provinces.
PRIME MINISTER ARIEL HENRY: [translated] We have declared a state of emergency in the west, the south, Nippes and the province of Grand’Anse. We have a medical emergency. The Health Ministry started distribution of medicines in the hospitals.
AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister Henry also appealed to international donors to do a better job helping Haiti than they did after the devastating 2010 earthquake that left more than 300,000 people dead.
PRIME MINISTER ARIEL HENRY: [translated] In this crisis, we want more appropriate responses than those we received after the 2010 earthquake. All aid that will come from outside the country must go through Civil Protection. I do not want aid to arrive in a disorderly manner, where everyone decides what they want.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests in Haiti. In Jérémie, near the epicenter of the earthquake, we’re joined by Nadesha Mijoba, country director for Haitian Health Foundation. And in Port-au-Prince, Ann Lee, CEO and co-founder of CORE, Community Organized Relief Effort.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Nadesha, let’s begin with you. You are right there. Jérémie has been devastated, Les Cayes. Can you describe the scene on the ground?
NADESHA MIJOBA: A lot of destruction, a lot of houses destroyed. The cathedral in downtown Jérémie has sustained a lot of damage. People are — the best way for me to describe it — traumatized, terribly scared. You mentioned people are sleeping outside in the streets, but it’s not only because many are homeless — and, in fact, many are homeless — but there are many, many people that have decided to sleep out in the streets out of fear because of the many aftershocks that have been felt and more destruction and that their houses are going to come down on them. Interestingly so, last night, one of our main compounds, we had staff and other members of the community literally sleeping on the grass of the compound yard.
AMY GOODMAN: I remember this so well from just after the earthquake in 2010, when everyone was sleeping outside. Nadesha Mijoba, can you describe the moment of the earthquake and where you were, for example, and what people did at that moment?
NADESHA MIJOBA: Well, it has to be admitted that it was fortunate that it was about 8:30 — or, it was 8:29 in the morning, where most people were outside of their home, thankful to the fact that many go to the church, many go out to the market, etc. So, that, I suppose, was helpful in the sense that we don’t have a lot more devastation that is already in existence.
The issue of the earthquake, it has to be said, is just like one more item in a very, very long list of traumatic events that the people of Haiti are sustaining. So, there was a lot of shaking of the ground, a lot of things flying, people running, of course, out into the streets screaming. Yeah, it’s a horrifying scene to see.
AMY GOODMAN: The mayor of Les Cayes, among many others, was also killed in the earthquake, is that right? And describe, for people who are not familiar with Haiti, the southern peninsula — Les Cayes, Jérémie — how connected it is to the rest of the country.
NADESHA MIJOBA: Well, Cayes and Jérémie are in the southern peninsula of Haiti. And, for example, Jérémie is about eight — about six to eight hours driving from Port-au-Prince and about an hour by plane, and it’s about an hour and a half connected to Cayes, which is the largest next city to us in Jérémie. And it’s about three hours, four hours, from the city of Cayes to Port-au-Prince. And it’s connected by a main highway, not what you would think of a highway in the U.S., but a main road from Port-au-Prince to Cayes, and then another one road from Cayes to Jérémie.
It must be said that the road between Cayes and Jérémie right now sustained a lot of destruction. The bridge to enter Jérémie has been damaged, which means at this time Jérémie is disconnected from the rest of the country. So all the aid at this time needs to come in via either airplane or by sea. Cayes, the road is open to Cayes, thankfully, and aid is arriving there. Also must be said that the situation in Cayes appears to be a lot more severe than that of Jérémie. They really sustained a lot of damage. And a lot of the dead thus far [no audio] —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nadesha Mijoba, who is country director of Haitian Health Foundation. Go ahead, Nadesha.
NADESHA MIJOBA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you one other question. The corporate media in the United States immediately focused on, they say, “And then people immediately started looting.”
NADESHA MIJOBA: Also very fragile.
AMY GOODMAN: I think — I think it would be very differently described in the United States, when people are desperate, after there was an earthquake, going for necessary supplies. How would you describe it?
NADESHA MIJOBA: Well, that’s my biggest concern right now, the humanitarian disaster that is about to unfold. You know, the situation here was fragile to begin with. Over the last year, the number of acute malnourished children has grown to about 61% across the country, given the sociopolitical situation that the country has experienced over the last year. And the gang violence taking place in the Martissant area has made it very difficult for supply trucks to come into the Jérémie or even the southern peninsula of Haiti. So, the markets here were fragile to begin with, the access to supply, the access to food items, not to mention the costs of those food items, because everything, when it does come in, has to come in under a lot of security, which creates, you know, an additional cost to the vendors.
So, the situation is quite critical at this time. And now with the storm coming, I am petrified what that is going to do to the health of the community, the amount of rain that is going to come down. I can envision a lot of hungry, malnourished people, a lot of respiratory conditions, diarrhea, skin conditions, with the deterioration of the hygiene situation. So, yes, it’s not something that you envision, going to a market anywhere else, or, rather, the little markets are quite fragile right now. Unfortunately, there is some violence that is unfolding, as well, in some of the little towns in the area. So, I think the critical nature of responding is going to have an impact on what unfolds over the next few days.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go from Nadesha Mijoba in Jérémie, the country director of the Haitian Health Foundation, to Ann Lee, the CEO and co-founder of CORE, Community Organized Relief Effort. She is in Port-au-Prince right now. Ann Lee, talk about the state of the hospitals right now, both at the epicenter and around it. I mean, you have a country that is so hard hit, this impending storm that’s barreling down on Haiti right now, this massive earthquake and, of course, a country devastated by COVID.
ANN LEE: What we’re seeing right now is really an uncovering of the long-term disaster, which is the lack of systems and the investment in existing systems. The hospitals right now are overrun. There’s shortages of basic materials, of bandages, of alcohol, of medical professionals.
For us, right now what we ask for, as people see this unfold from the comfort of their homes, is to understand that, you know, Haiti has been, over so many decades, struggling with these external shocks, and the last thing we need are short-term responses. We need to invest in these systems, groups like HHF, GHESKIO, Partners in Health. These long-term health networks are what we need to invest in, and supporting them through materials, through additional surge capacity of medical professionals. We have to work through these systems, and not in parallel. And that’s what I hope that folks who are watching this unfold can understand, that all the help and assistance we need has to be long-term and to continue to support what’s down there, the systems that are down there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk specifically, for example, about the hospitals now, those who have been — well, they’re still looking for bodies, but also for survivors, the airports being used as hospitals.
ANN LEE: There’s a number of locations right now where we have our medical mobile units, and, essentially, they’re creating mini field triage centers. They don’t have the capacity to take on very, very hurt individuals, but are able to kind of triage. But this is happening on the lawns of existing hospitals or even in any green space that they can find.
Right now, again, materials getting down to the south has been very difficult. The supply chain, again, as HHF has well stated, has been cut not just because of the landslides and the broken bridges, but also with the insecurity, to be able to cross through cities, who are also frustrated for not getting support, are creating road blockages. So, again, supply lines are being cut. And so, the need to get these supplies to these hospitals are so critically important. Air support, sea support, all those things are critically needed from external supporters.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, there was a cholera outbreak after the earthquake, and it ended up it was from U.N. workers who were there, and it led to a complete devastation of Haiti. Your concerns right now? And we just have 30 seconds, Ann.
ANN LEE: We need to learn from 2010. We need to learn that we have to, essentially, do no harm and think about building the systems and working within existing networks that are already on the ground, these local groups and the existing networks that are there, and not try to jump in and, essentially, do more harm than good.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will continue, of course, to cover what’s unfolding, this catastrophe in Haiti. Ann Lee, CEO and co-founder of CORE, Community Organized Relief Effort. And again, thanks to Nadesha Mijoba, country director, Haitian Health Foundation, speaking to us from Jérémie. Ann Lee, in Port-au-Prince.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley. I’m Amy Goodman.