The 2008 Carribean Hurricane Season
In 2008, ten named hurricanes were spawned in tropical southern waters and moved maliciously northward to assail numerous locations within the Americas. Four of these (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) directly affected Haiti, a country which was already suffering from poverty and an underdeveloped health and economic infrastructure (see Map of 2008 Caribbean Hurricane Season.)
Hurricanes are set apart from tropical storms by their intensity. A hurricane is characterized by sustained winds in excess of 74 mph, while the winds of a tropical storm rage at least 39 mph. Both forms of tropical cyclones can cause tremendous damage to human municipalities, crops, and to the environment. In addition, their tremendous force often leaves many dead, injured, displaced or permanently homeless. Hurricanes are categorized according to their severity on a scale of 1 to 5, with Category 5 representing storms of the most intensity. The Atlantic Hurricane Season typically runs from the beginning of June through the end of November (National Hurricane Center, 2004).
Fay slammed Haiti on August 16, 2008 with heavy rains and severe flooding. Serving as a catalyst for a bus accident, Fay was responsible for 50 deaths in this incident alone. (See 50 Die as Haiti Bus Swept Away.)
Gustav hammered the mountainous nation on August 26-27, 2008, striking Jacmel as a a Category 1 Hurricane.
Hanna skirted Haiti’s North Coast on September 1-2 and hammered the terrain with heavy precipitation. The flooding she generated inundated over half the homes in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth most populated city.
The lives of about fifteen thousand families were affected by the savage storms. Many lives were lost, and six thousand seven hundred families were displaced, seeking temporary shelter. (Reuters, CRS Aids Storm-Ravaged. . .)
Ike struck on September 7, collapsing a bridge that provided the only land access into Gonaives. The residents there were in desperate need of supplies following the previous three catastrophes. The following short video graphically illustrates the situation in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ike: Ike’s Floods Add Insult to Haiti’s Misery.
The landfalls of Ike and Gustav were followed by incredible suffering and insecurity. But that was only an exacerbation of the already difficult situation in Haiti, one that the Camillians know only too well.
The most severely flood-affected areas include the city of Gonaives with a population of about 500,000. Rural areas of Hinche, Central Department, Cabaret and Aracahaie, among others, were also hit hard by the storms and resulting floods and landslides See After Ike, Haiti’s Needs Mount. Roads were impassable, and many of the inhabitants were forced to take refuge in temporary shelters, including the Bishop’s residence!
Haiti, the least developed nation in the Americas, has severe levels of poverty in common with only 3 other countries: the Middle Eastern Gaza Strip (CIA), and the African nations of Chad (CIA) and Liberia (CIA), all of which have 80% of their residents living below the poverty line. Over 2/3 of Haitians survive on less than $1 daily. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with a considerably more affluent neighbor, the Dominican Republic (42.2% poverty) (CIA).
Approximately 2/3 of the residents of Haiti live in poor rural areas, and the same portion of its population has no formal form of employment (CIA, Haiti, Economy). One can imagine the emotional and material repercussions of the intense and repeated assaults of the 2008 storms on the inhabitants of the country that had so little to begin with. Prior to the flooding caused by the catastrophic storms, the population was just finally attaining some success in its agricultural endeavors.
The vast majority (80%) of Haitians are Roman Catholics. The official Haitian languages are French and Creole. And only 52.9% of the population of Haiti aged fifteen or over are able to read and write (CIA, Haiti, People.) There a number of major long-term problems which have affected the ability of the people of Haiti to attain a more agreeable, functional and self-sufficient standard of living. Many of these existed prior to the catastrophes, which served to magnify them.
One such problem is inadequate health care. Medical concerns in Haiti are considerable.
In 2007, 2.2% of the population (120,000 persons) was estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. (CIA, Haiti, People).
The flooding triggered by the 2008 turbulences damaged existing structures while simultaneously increasing the need for health care services. Waterborne diseases common in Haiti include bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, hepatitis E, typhoid fever and leptospirosis. Other common maladies include dengue fever and malaria.
In addition, emotional and material devastation often triggers trauma and psychological disturbances.
Another effect of the egregious storms, one that has become a major global concern in many contexts, is environmental damage. The floods created by the relentless tirade of hurricanes had considerable impact on the agricultural and natural resources of the country. The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2007/2008 Human Development Report forewarns us that “there is now overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is moving towards the point at which irreversible ecological catastrophe becomes unavoidable . . . .There is a window of opportunity for avoiding the most damaging climate change impacts, but that window is closing: the world has less than a decade to change course. Actions taken—or not taken—in the years ahead will have a profound bearing on the future course of human development. The world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capabilities to act. What is missing is a sense of urgency, human solidarity and collective interest.” Without the assurance of environmental stability, our other efforts cannot have but a temporary impact. Thus, it is our Christian duty to keep the good health of the environment, as well as of our less fortunate brethren, in our thoughts and prayers and in our actions. St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, merchants and the ecology, may be one who could act as an intercessor in such delicate matters along with St. Camillus and our Blessed Mother.
The Catholic Catechism teaches. . .
(2446) St. John Chrystotom vigorously recalls this: “Not to enable the poor is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” “The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity.” When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997). New York: Doubleday, p. 646.
The Camillians in Haiti
The Camillians have a long history of helping the population of Haiti – largely in the capital, Port au Prince, where they first established a community in 1995. (See Camillians in Haiti – website.) Almost 2 million people reside in the city – some 80% in “subhuman conditions”–slums that lack electricity and dependably clean water.
Since 2001, the Camillians have been operating an attractive and efficient health care complex in Port au Prince called “the Foyer Saint Camille” (English: St. Camillus Home). I, Scott Binet, toured the Foyer in 2004 when I traveled through Port au Prince to access Gonaives after it had been devastated by Hurricane Jeanne. Hurricane Jeanne had struck Haiti on September 19, 2004, causing intense damage and contributing to the ever-present difficulties of the suffering nation.
See Gonaives is devastated by Hurricane Jeanne (Video – 2004).
The Foyer arose in response to the health care needs and the poverty of the local population. It serves people of all ages, but prioritizes the needs of children. There are a great number of malnourished and disabled children in Haiti, many of whom are handicapped as a result of childhood illnesses or accidents. The prevalence of AIDS and TB is high as well. The Camillians in Haiti recently started a program of formation for those who wish to enter the religious life, and a program for the prevention of AIDS and care of those with the illness.
The Foyer is composed of a health care center and several facilities that provide for the health and well-being of children. The health facility is composed of a clinic that has laboratory and x-ray facilities. It is visited by 150 patients per day (adults and children). In the Foyer complex, there is also a labor and delivery area, maternity section and a nutritional center, where some 300 children are fed daily. Finally, next to the center is the residence of the Camillians with a chapel, an attractive, sizable two-story building [Bethlehem Home] that welcomes and cares for some 100 handicapped children. The facility offers care by specialized personnel, free of charge. (See Photos of children at Bethlehem House.) This building also houses a center for physiotherapy and a nutritional program for these disabled children.
The Camillians in Haiti also help impoverished families in their locale through an “adoption at a distance program.” This program assists families with school tuition, preventive health care, food, emergency home repairs, funds to start up a small business, and payments for health care from specialists.
Haiti Relief Project
In the September of 2008, SOS DRS, CTF Central and the Camillians in Haiti – in response to the continuing hardships created by the four aforementioned storms – started corresponding in an attempt to arrange continuing assistance to the suffering Haitians. The initial response of the Camillians (CTF Central) was to provide supplies to those affected: medicine, rice and pasta.
The need for continuing assistance, however, soon became apparent.
Worldwide CTF solution-oriented correspondence via online conversations were initiated in mid September, 2008 between Fr. Antonio Menegon (Piedmontese Province) Br. Luca Perletti (Secretary General and the Director of the Secretariat for Missions) and Fr. Scott Binet (President – SOS DRS and International Coordinator – CTF). The horrors depicted in the written and photographic testimonials provided by Fr. Antonio and Fr. Crescenzo Mazella, the Superior of the Camillians in Haiti, deeply moved the others. Fr. Crescenzo narrates stories of the devastation of the city of Gonaives, approximately 4 hours from the Center in port su Prince. The city was inundated with water levels as high as 4 meters. The Camillians were separated from Gonaives for approximately one month, due to the floods and the collapse of a bridge. Communications were impaired as well, increasing their isolation.
The situation in the vicinity of Foyer St. Camille was no less tragic. Many families were forced to seek refuge at the hospital as the storms had ravaged their possessions and living acommodations. Fr. Antonio acknowledges that the situation had disheartened him somewhat, as the streets had become impassable rivers. While in 2004 one could pass through the water in an automobile, this time not even the robust vehicles of the Minustah (the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti) were able to manipulate through the flood zones. In addition, traveling with supplies was perilous, as robbers and looters abounded. Fr. Antonio communicated that the center was assisting 400 children, now adoptees of the donors to the Center.
Fr. Antonio’s despair concerning the plight of the storm-ravaged nation was apparent. The trio subsequently brainstormed electronically in an attempt to formulate and implement solutions.
After spending 2 days in a Consulta meeting in Viterbo, Br. Luca authorized the disbursement of $17,000 to Fr. Antonio Menegon.
Funds were disbursed as follows:
- Street Repairs $1,282
- Construction of Homes $4,051
- Rent $528
- Medicine $1,654
- Food $1,500
- Sr. Vincenzina (Gonaives) $3,000
- Miscellaneous $4,985*
- Total $17,000
Funds were applied towards the restoration of the streets in the vicinity of the Center as they had become impassable rivers. Canals were filled with debris and did not perform their function, but conversely prevented the normal flowing of the water. In conjuction with the local government, restorations were performed on the canals. With crowbars and axes, 10 men labored to perform the repairs, removing debris and erecting new walls for the canals. Future plans were made for securing dirt to be used as fill, and for its compression by a steamroller.
Construction of Homes
- Land was purchased in areas less susceptible to damage than where the destroyed homes were.
- Restorations were performed on existing structures.
- Rent assistance was provided.
Homes for rent in the amount of $180 yearly were located in the less hazardous zones to replace accommodations for those living in homes which were not to be restored.
Many people evacuated from Cabaret (about 40 km from the Camillians) arrived at the Center to receive care and medicine. Many recovered within a few days. There were no other medical centers available to the public between Cabaret and the Foyer.
Many evacuees of Cabaret, as well as local residents, were hit by tornadoes causing them to lose everything they were provided with (sacks of food that had been distributed weekly). The distribution of new food continues.
Sr. Vinzencina of Gonaives
Sr. Vincenzina was quite grateful to receive the funds on behalf of the school and the medical dispensary she operates. The damage at the dispensary was considerably more severe than that caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. The Camillians were not able to assist initially in Gonaives as the streets of the city were full of debris, waste and mud which impeded the circulation of traffic. In addition, traveling with medical supplies was risky due to the presence of looters and robbers. Sister Vincenzina was scheduled to receive $3,000 and food supplies for her ministry on the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The current condition of the Camillians in the Piedmontese Province along with more photos are available for viewing at www.arpnet.it/madian.
*Further precision pending.
Composed with contributions by: Fr. Crescenzo Mazella, MI; Fr. Scott Binet, MI; Susan Stefanski, and Rosa Martin (translations)