The situation in Haiti is not good and may be getting worse. After a trip down there three weeks ago to film with a US delegation that included former Senator Bob Kerrey, Cat Cora, Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and Billy Shore, I have been scouring the news looking for signs of the situation tipping one way or the other. What I hear is that the worst of what we saw -- widespread homelessness and rampant hunger -- is not improving. Almost four months after the quake, the scale of the ongoing disaster is hard to convey.
Imagine that every park and open lot in your town became a camp for homeless families -- babies, kids, old people, the sick and the hungry, as well as strangers, petty criminals, even rapists -- all jammed together in makeshift tents built on mud. Then, after an initial outpouring of aid, the logical pullback occurred with daily UN food deliveries ending and tent distribution done. Maybe you got a tent, maybe you didn't (in which case you are improvising shelter without basic building materials).
Apparently, billions have been pledged on the world stage to rebuild Haiti, but dollars in the bank mean little to families perched precariously between the need for immediate aid and a world waiting for them to recover their independence. On the local level, there is precious little money to buy food and clean water, let alone school uniforms for the kids, housing or even a nicer tent; nevermind electricity and running water. The capitol city is still entirely run on generators. Rubble litters the traffic-clogged streets. This is life in Haiti now, four months later.
Amid such destruction, there is no foundation for rich or poor. Life is off the grid. But while most of the rich have generators and homes, people we met were literally starting over with twigs and rope to build houses for their families. The hope of a new life in an abandoned lot on the edge of town quickly fades when you realize how far home will be from jobs, schools and the semblance of an infrastructure.
The NGOs have by and large done a remarkable job providing for the people in camps where they are stationed. Partners in Health clinics, World Food Program food distribution, and tents donated by everyone from Doctors without Borders to the Clinton Foundation are visible throughout many camps. The US Army 82nd Airborne has maintained order and won the respect of the people on an admirable level. On top of that, the UN has provided security, organizational support and transitional camps to relocate some families out of harm's way as the rainy season begins. And the Haitian government, I am told, is doing their part too, though I did not see many signs of it.
Despite all the aid, we saw massive need that was not being addressed by the NGOs, let alone the UN or the Haitian government. In Haiti, there are many variations on a theme of nothingness. Amazingly, most Haitians have still found a way to have something with nothing -- they have organized themselves into small associations that look out for one another, and they have grouped themselves around water and food distribution points. Yet the people we met in camps were all looking at longterm homelessness and a growing threat of hunger. Among the tents, we even met a vendor selling mud cakes for human consumption.
Part of being human is the ability to be affected by another's plight -- empathy and the actions that it inspires in us are incredible facets of humanity. Post-quake, the outpouring for Haiti was second-to-none. But as new disaster stories flood in -- the oil spill, the Times Square near-bombing, stock market jitters -- it is important not to forget Haiti and its people. In the coming week, we'll be sending out video dispatches on the Timberland Earthkeeper Network YouTube channel that show what we saw. If we can stay vigilant and support the Haitian population -- through donations, volunteer actions, or simply by bearing witness -- we'll be doing our part for Haiti.