Sophia Lafontant is Oxfam America’s lead organizer for Haiti.
It is amazing how quickly life can change. In a matter of hours, people in New York’s Breezy Point, The Rockaways and Staten Island, in New Jersey’s Atlantic City, in Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti were all faced with the reality of lost property, death, and power outages. It makes me realize how interconnected we all are and dependent on our families, friends, elected officials, and the kindness of strangers to help us when we cannot help ourselves.
I live in Washington, D.C., and while Sandy came through here too, it was not with the same force. While holed up in my apartment for the better part of two days, my mind and thoughts often raced to Haiti, where 54 people reportedly died in the storm, and my extended family and friends still there. Both my parents were born and raised on the island and came to the US as young adults to escape the repressive government of Jean Claude Duvalier. Like many children of immigrant parents, I was raised with one foot in the US and one foot in Haiti. Despite the extreme differences, I love both countries dearly. As an American, I cherish the opportunities and freedoms I have had all my life living here. But Haiti, the land of my parents’ birth, pulls at my heart strings constantly. And the storm, in an odd way, brought into focus for me the sudden similarities in these neighboring nations: the anxiety, fear, loss, suffering, and high-level discussions about if and how to rebuild.
In both the US and Haiti, governments demonstrated leadership. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Haitian President Michel Martelly, and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe all deployed whatever human, physical, and financial resources they had at their disposal to evacuate residents living in low lying areas and to provide shelter, food and water to citizens in their care.
According to the New York Times, Sandy’s estimated to cost the US economy is $50 billion. President Obama has pledged to cut red tape and ensure that aid reaches the needy quickly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already distributed $19 million for temporary housing aid to 85,072 storm survivors. The Department of Labor is making $16 million available to hire temporary workers for the cleanup and the Department of Transportation is giving $17 million to five states to support the rebuilding and repair of transportation infrastructure vital to the movement of people, goods and services. For US citizens there is comfort in knowing the government is capable of responding swiftly to a disaster.
But when I read what Haiti’s Lamothe told Reuters–“Sandy’s impact was devastating… most of the agricultural crops that were left from Hurricane Isaac were destroyed during Sandy“– it was like someone punched me in the gut. With all that Haiti has to fix and all that it was in the process of fixing since the 2010 earthquake, I wanted to throw my hands up in frustration. What is Haiti, a poor country with limited resources and a vulnerable environment, going to do?
The full cost of Sandy to Haiti may not be known for weeks. One estimate has it at $104 million. In some areas, Sandy brought rains equivalent to 50 percent of yearly rainfall, destroying houses, schools, bridges and roads. And then I read just the other day that 70 percent of Haiti’s crops were lost. The agricultural sector which this year alone has had to deal with drought, tropical storm Isaac, and hurricane Sandy has been dealt its latest blow. My fear, and that of others, is that Sandy will increase food prices and further the demise of small farmers—adding one more burden to a country that is already shouldering far more than its share of hardship.