A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
There’s an air of frenzied activity as I enter the warehouse Oxfam shares with others in Haiti’s most notorious crime-ridden neighbourhood, Cité-Soleil.
Men and women are working furiously, assembly-line fashion, putting together “family kits” – containing basic hygiene and kitchen items – to distribute to 10,000 households. The kits consist of brightly coloured plastic bowls, plates, kitchen utensils, together with cups, towels, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Its frenetic, but well-organised. And people are focussed on their job with almost fierce concentration.
“Hygiene is important; people lost everything. They are sleeping outside. They need everything for their hygiene,” said Dario Arthur, in charge of the emergency response for Oxfam Quebec, explaining the contents of the kits. “There is everything people might need to have a minimum quality of life… and also for cooking, for the kitchen.”
Every day, around 1,000 kits are assembled and distributed to needy communities. Oxfam buys the items from local companies to try to help the Haitian economy. And around 50 people displaced or affected by the earthquake have been hired by Oxfam to help get the kits ready and out to communities as quickly as possible.
“It’s a good opportunity to get this job,” said Frantz Casseus, who sleeps outdoors on the street because his house was destroyed by the earthquake. “I’m going to use the money to help my kids and wife.
“It is important to do this work, too,” he adds. “People are in need. It’s great that Oxfam is helping people like this.”
Nadege Celestin, who is carefully separating long strips of toothbrushes to add to the kits, agrees. She lost her sister and nephew in the earthquake and her house was destroyed. “It’s important to do this. I can work for the Haitian people, for my country.”
“These kits will be a big help because some people lost everything. They don’t have anything at all.”
As one truck leaves loaded with kits, a huge crowd gathers outside at the warehouse gate. They also want help; and many want jobs. The needs are enormous.
“We can't satisfy all the people,” sighs Oxfam warehouse logistician, Olivier Girault. He explains that Oxfam has been working with local committees established in the camps – including one just behind the warehouse – to identify the most vulnerable who need aid.
Armed guards, who work for the warehouse, are close by as the crowd surges forward. Three are on duty day and night. A wall behind the warehouse was destroyed in the quake; and it’s important to guarantee the security of warehouse stock as well as the security of staff.
Eventually, the crowd disperses and the gate is closed. Inside, staff maintain their flurry of activity; assembling more kits for delivery.
“I think we try to do our best considering the budget that we have,” said Oxfam’s Dario Arthur. “For now, it's what we can do.
“This earthquake is one of the biggest events in this last century really. Especially for a country like Haiti that already had a lot of problems, this is putting so many more problems, more pressure on the population and the government. People are really in a very bad situation.”
We leave the warehouse when the last truck drives off for the day. Total number of kits distributed that day: 1,300. A good day’s work.
Logistician, Olivier Girault – a Haitian himself – is thoughtful as we leave the warehouse. “We cannot live as we were before, without rules. People were building their houses all over the mountain,” he said. “There were no rules.
“We need to rebuild differently.” But for the moment, the emphasis is still on relief rather than rebuilding. Aiding those who desperately need help.
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