Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guest Voices: Thousands at immediate risk in Haiti due to rains

Continuing or series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, Mark Jafar of MTV Networks talks about the needs that are still very urgent in Haiti.

Bourdon Valley, Port-au-Prince – April 18, 2010 – Tucked into the hills that rise above central Port-au-Prince lies Bourdon Valley, an enclave of beautiful, verdant forest flanked by the eastern suburbs of Delmas and Canape Vert. With its thick mango groves and gently winding river, it’s easy to see why one would make this home. But the small, basic concrete houses that once lined the Valley walls now lie in ruin, replaced by the blue and white tarp shelters that now blanket so much of Port-au-Prince’s landscape. More than 14,000 Haitians live in the spontaneous “settlements” within Bourdon Valley’s four square miles, including both its original residents and those who lost their homes, and almost everything else, in the earthquake came here to escape the arid, rubble-strewn streets of the city’s center.

The inclined forests that lend Bourdon Valley its beauty also make it exceedingly dangerous. May 1 marks the start of Haiti’s rainy season, which threatens to unleash a torrent of mudslides and flash floods on the Valley’s makeshift communities. The UN has determined that 9,000 of Bourdon Valley’s residents are at immediate risk of losing their lives in this area due to dangers posed by the rains. Getting these people out is a priority.

More than 2,500 of Bourdon Valley’s residents have registered with the UN’s International Office of Migration for relocation, and tomorrow they begin their exodus to Tabarre Issa, a newly built settlement on the outskirts of town managed by Concern Worldwide. Tabarre Issa is the roots of what could be a lasting community. Concern has constructed clean water and sanitation systems. The World Food Program will provide early food distributions, and the International Medical Corps will operate a medical facility. Well-lit, gravel paths line Tabarre Issa’s spacious tents, which in 6 to 8 weeks will make way for transitional shelters. The infrastructure is in place, and the stage is set for a successful relocation.

The challenge now? Getting people to go. Many of Bourdon Valley’s residents see the value in Tabarre Issa’s concentrated and coordinated aid and services and flat topography. Yet others remain unconvinced and reluctant to leave the confines of the city. As you walk through the settlements of the Valley, you see few signs that its residents are preparing to move, although conditions are overcrowded and harsh, with whole families living in small tents. Men chip away at the earth, building the foundation of a new home. A woman sells used clothing and sweets from a makeshift storefront, while other women try to cook and feed their children with what little they have. The seamless harmonies of young women singing hymnals in Creole ring out from a tent, amidst the sound of power drills and pick axes meeting stone. Signs of the stunning resolve and resilience of Bourdon Valley’s residents are everywhere. The question is: will that resolve ultimately lead them to Tabarre Issa? Very soon the answer will begin to reveal itself.

Mark Jafar is Vice President of Corporate Communications at MTV Networks, where he develops internal and external communications strategies for the company. He manages communications for key internal client groups such as Content Distribution, Digital, Ad Sales and Corporate Responsibility, including MTVN’s Hope for Haiti Now initiative. He also helps support MTVN's brands, which include MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and more, on companywide communications initiatives.

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