Trucks filled with aid are trundling through remote, hurricane-ravaged towns in Haiti – but the frustration of survivors like Dmitry Pierre is boiling over into deep anger and even violence as they watch them pass by without stopping. Desperate people who have lost their houses and are living in rubble or in crowded shelters blocked streets on Tuesday to force convoys to stop and pay them attention. Some have even taken to pelting aid trucks with rocks, furious that they have been ignored and at an apparent lack of coordination in distributing food and water.
“They humiliated us, they take us for beasts, we don’t know where we are going or what there will be in the future, everything is destroyed,” said Pierre, living in a school that is now a squalid shelter as four aid organization trucks drove past. Hurricane Matthew has killed over 1,000 people in Haiti, tens of thousands have lost their homes and some 1.4 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. And that in an impoverished nation still struggling to get back on its feet after a devastating 2010 earthquake killed around 200,000 people and reduced many parts of Haiti to rubble.
Shouting residents blocked the path of a convoy near a United Nations base in the town of Jeremie in northwest Haiti with tree trunks on Tuesday, unwittingly stopping peacekeepers rather than aid workers. Brazilian peacekeepers jumped out of their vehicles with batons and riot shields. They even sent a drone into the air to film, in case things turned nasty. A 15-minute standoff ensued, across from two schools being used as shelters. Inside the school buildings, children ran around naked among elderly disabled hurricane survivors. Some of those in the makeshift shelters said they had not eaten for five days.
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“We have been here a long time, we’ve never received anything, every truck that passes by, they don’t give us anything,” said Jean-Eddy Charles, who said he organized the blockade. “Our houses are destroyed. There are 2,000 people in this school. We need food, water, we need tents. Our children are getting sick and are going to die of hunger,” he added.
On a rocky, mountainous road between Jeremie and Les Cayes, Reuters came across a broken-down aid truck. Two armed Haitian police officers were defending it. One of the officers said as many as eight aid trucks had been attacked on the road in the past few days.
“For now it’s dangerous here,” said one of the policemen, declining to give his name. “When the driver is alone in the truck, people come from everywhere and it is very dangerous. As long as we are here, they back off.” The truck’s windscreen was shattered by a rock.
“When I was driving a lot of people rushed toward me and threw rocks at the windscreen,” said Wilfrace Dorval, the driver. “They smashed the glass so I sped up because I was scared for my life.”
Further down the road, young village boys who had taken it upon themselves to repair holes in mountain roads with rocks, chased after vehicles, imploring those inside to take pity on them and hand over a few scuffed gourdes, Haiti’s currency. Some locals shouted “Do you have any water for us?”, while road signs graffitied in Creole appealed to passing aid convoys: “Please stop, we need help too.”