On the Ground

January 22, 2010

Rwandaise Blanfort, killed during "looting" in Cite Soleil

From the BBC’s Matthew Price:

“During the last week in Haiti, I was left with one overwhelming impression – it is the survivors who are helping themselves. They are pulling together, not tearing themselves apart…Much has been made of the potential for violence, but I did not feel unsafe. Not once did I think the crowds might turn on me…When I gave some food and water to a family we had been filming, others who had nothing stood silently by, glad that at least someone was getting a little help.”

“…to use the threat of violence as a reason for not distributing aid is an affront to the people of Haiti and their own humanity.”

From CNN’s Karl Penhaul:

“Haitian police shot and killed a man they suspected of stealing rice in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince on Thursday, leaving his body on the sidewalk for hours as his family mourned…The dead man’s mother identified him as Gentile Cherie, a 20-year-old carpenter. A companion with him was wounded, and a third man nearby was hit by what he said was a stray bullet.

“Witnesses said no one was looting at the time. Josef Josnain, the owner of a shop near the city’s airport, said the five bags of rice the men were found with fell from a truck and passers-by picked them up. And Cherie’s wounded companion, who did not give his name, said a truck driver gave them the rice.

“A truck stopped and we jumped on, and the driver gave us the rice as a gift,” he said. “But the cops shot us.”…A CNN crew spotted police stopping the two men Thursday afternoon. They stopped to film the arrests, but while they were getting out of the car, they heard four gunshots and saw the men on the ground. Both had been shot in the back.

From the New York Times/AP:

“On Thursday, a local water truck pulled up and everyone ran to catch the plastic packets of water being chucked out for free. A U.S. soldier across the street put a big gun atop his Humvee and strapped on his helmet, eyeing the gathering crowd, but nothing happened and he sat back down.”

Also from the New York Times/AP:

“…pensioners continue to suffer just a mile (1 1/2 kilometers) from the international airport where aid is pouring in…On the grounds of the Municipal home for the elderly Thursday, old people lay listlessly in beds out in the open with sheets smeared with excrement, surrounded by hundreds of people living in makeshift tents. One man wore just a T-shirt, his private parts exposed. A woman, just skin and bones, held her head. A body lay in the debris of the nearby nursing home.

“Six pensioners died in the Jan. 12 earthquake, part of an estimated 200,000 victims. Another three have since perished of hunger and exhaustion. Two are buried 10 feet (three meters) away near the walls of a destroyed chapel. A dirty red sheet covers the body of the third. Several more are barely clinging on after days of slow agony.

“…On Monday, the Brazilian aid group Viva Rio brought a large tanker of water, the first large-scale aid to arrive. But Emmanuel Morancy, the nursing home’s general manager, says the water isn’t clean enough for the sick patients to drink…”There’s no fuel or coal to boil it,” he said late Thursday as journalists from The Associated Press delivered a four-day supply of rice, beans and cooking oil.”

From the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington:

“A…man approached us and opened his wallet to show us his badge that told us he was a clergyman in New Jersey. “Can you tell me how to get to America?” he says. “I can’t live here anymore. My house has fallen. I can’t stay.”

Is the media becoming more contrite about its mischaracterisation of Haitians over the past week and a half? Perhaps. Rebecca Solnit has penned an article on the media response to Haiti’s earthquake which puts its “performance” into perspective. As she begins:

I’m talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.

…After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.

It’s well worth a read.

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One Response to “On the Ground”


  1. […] heartwarming that we send aid and that China, Venezuela, the US and many others pile in to help.  As the Communist I clearly must be I ask why do we let them live in shanty towns, so vulnerable to …  Pat Robertson is not a Communist and he knows why 100,000 people have died.  Their forebears […]


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