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Haitian Flood Recovery Facing Obstacles

Just over one month ago, floodwaters from a tropical storm swept through the city of Gonaives, Haiti, killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving tens of thousands of others homeless and desperately short of food. Now, one-month later, recovery efforts have begun in the areas, but those recovery efforts have been hurt by political instability and the chronic poverty that has afflicted Haiti for generations.

These women are the lucky ones. They have food. Their homes and crops were wiped out by floods from tropical storm Jeanne, which struck the town of Gonaives in late September. About 2,000 people died in and around Gonaives and many like these women now have to travel to the outskirts of the city to get food.

These Argentinean peacekeepers, sent to Haiti six months ago to try to keep order after the former President Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country now try to keep order and get donated food to the people of Gonaives.

It is not an easy task. This is the main road linking Gonaives with the capital Port-au- Prince. Water from the floods blocks the main road and a temporary road to reach the city clogs with traffic resulting in more delays. Also, political violence in the capital Port-au-Prince has shut down Haiti's main port. Now food for Gonaives must be trucked in from the neighboring Dominican Republic, resulting in more delays.

Mirais says she frequently walks long distances to get to the food. Mirais says she and her family of six had to climb trees as the flood waters destroyed their small home near Gonaives. She says she has lost everything, but unlike many of her neighbors, all the members of her family survived.

Tropical Storm Jeanne did not hit Haiti directly but because the country is deforested the storm turned deadly. Trees that were cut down and soil that could have absorbed the rain have been replaced by scrub and cactus around Gonaives. As a result, a cascade of water, mud and rocks swept through the city.

Fernando Arroyo is overseeing relief efforts for the United Nations in Gonaives. He says the basic reason for the tragedy is extreme poverty. "The bottom line is deforestation, but that responds to a critical economic situation. When the people of Haiti do not have any other recourse, they will chop the trees and transform them into charcoal to sell the charcoal as a last resource. This is what has happened in Gonaives and in so many other areas of Haiti," he says.

This baby is suffering from the potentially deadly effects of drinking water polluted by waste. But there is a good chance the infant will survive because of the efforts of doctors and nurses at a brand new field hospital built by the Canadian and Norwegian Red Cross. Gonaives' government-run hospital was destroyed by the floods and many of the staff who worked there has disappeared.

Charlie Musoka who runs the new filed hospital for the Canadian Red Cross says the lack of health care workers has hurt relief efforts. "Everybody who comes to this hospital has been affected by the floods, even the nurses who we are working with from the former hospital. One of the problems they are telling us is that their homes were destroyed which is why it is very difficult for them to come back to work right away. So that has slowed things down. We are trying to talk to them, negotiating with the Haitian government, which is in fact the ultimate authority, the owner of the health system, to make sure we have sufficient nurses," he says.

Earlier this year, Gonaives was wracked by political violence when heavily armed gangs in the city began a rebellion against Jean Bertrand Aristide that spread to the rest of the country. Scores died and economic activity in the city came to a halt.

Now, with food shortages, polluted water and mounds of mud, debris and waste added to their suffering, many residents of Gonaives say their city is cursed. They say the best they can hope for is a quick end to their misery.