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Issue Date:  October 8, 2004

Tragedy compounds in Haiti


Tragedy seems to compound in Haiti this year. Political crisis swept President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office in February and U.N. peacekeeping troops were called in to quell marauding gangs.

In May, flooding near the border with the Dominican Republic killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed many towns and villages. Then Hurricane Ivan and Tropical Storm Jeanne hit.

Mudslides killed more than 1,600 people and injured 100,000 more. An estimated 175,000 people have been left without food, water and electricity.

Sr. Judy Dohner, a Sister of the Humility of Mary who lives and works at St. Damien Children’s Hospital in Port au Prince, told NCR that the hospital dispatched a mobile medical team to Gonaïves, the hardest hit region. Once there, she said, they found “six feet of mud in many places and bodies were partly covered by the mud.” About 1,000 people are missing; most are presumed dead.

“Our medical team plans to return to Gonaïves weekly with food and supplies,” Dohner told NCR in an e-mail Sept. 29. “We anticipate that many of the people will be evacuated. Then, we expect an influx of sick children at our hospital in Port au Prince. In a month or so, we will begin working with the diocese of Les Gonaïves and the local Catholic churches to find families and help re-build.”

She said, “The situation in Haiti has not improved much from the time the U.N. forces came into the country last March. We see [U.N. personnel] in their jeeps and tanks riding the streets and sometimes walking on patrol. They are a peacekeeping force and not in the country for humanitarian reasons, so the conditions in the country continue to deteriorate.”

Violence also continues, she said. “We hear gunfire almost nightly.”

“While struggling through [Hurricane Ivan in August], the mother of our medical director was kidnapped,” Dohner wrote. “Such kidnappings are becoming more frequent among wealthy families in Haiti. The people are not harmed, but are not released until a ransom is paid.” The director’s mother was released after 10 days.

Pope John Paul II dedicated $100,000 for relief efforts in Haiti through the Vatican’s charity arm, Cor Unum.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ relief and development agency, has provided $500,000 to purchase food and health and hygiene supplies.

National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2004

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