More on Haiti

Some dedicated topics relative to the earthquake response in Haiti, or Haiti in general. Practical tips on working and living in Haiti at the bottom.


This is the trailer for a documentary about Septentrional, a Haitian band playing since 1948. I like the documentary already just for the music, but it also gives a nice perspective on different sides of Haiti, and it’s nice that it’s not just focusing on poverty, aid or the earthquake! If you like the music by the way, you can buy it on the band’s website:

The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) presents two documentaries here (and apparently used to stream them for free but doesn’t seem like this works anymore).

PBS’ Frontline and NPR’s Planet Money teamed up to make a series of documentaries after the earthquake which you can watch here. I like that it’s called ‘An optimist in Haiti’ and that it take a bit of an economic look at things.

PBS has other docs on Haiti which you can find through an internal search. Some can be watched online like the short “Haiti’s Lost Music“, some are only available on DVD like “Egalité for all” about Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian revolution.

A new French film is out about Toussaint Louverture (see the trailer) but I’m not sure how to view it. It premièred on French television and at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles in February 2012.


Much has been written on Haiti, before and after the January 2010 earthquake. Here are some articles which stood out (for me).

How rumors rule cholera-torn Haiti which I briefly wrote about here

Seven places where aid money did and did not go looks at aid expenditures two years after the earthquake. I understand and really appreciate the spirit & facts presented in the article. One point that I think should be made in addition, however, is that when money is given to non-Haitian NGOs (or even to the US government), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t reach or benefit the Haitians. As a quick example, Partners in Health is US-based (and can probably be termed as ‘big and well-connected’) but it employs over 5,000 Haitians, and provides free health care to many Haitians (2.8 million patient visits in 2011). It may not be like that (by far?) with many other NGOs/ initiatives, but you can’t entirely write off money given to non-Haitian NGOs as not reaching Haitians

Les nantis d´Haiti is an article in French (incl. photo slideshow) which tries to give some perspective on the much less written-about topic of the Haitian élite, the 3% which reportedly manages 80% of the nation´s wealth. ´Here we call them the bourgeois,´ says the author, ´elsewhere we would call them the private sector´.


This guide was designed to help health professionals (in the U.S.) better understand Haitian-born patients when treating tuberculosis. It outlines the cultural perception of the disease, and what this can imply during diagnosis and treatment. Quote:

“In Haiti, illness is believed to be caused by magic and/or germs. These beliefs are “elaborately intertwined” and not fixed, but instead “subject to revision”. Beliefs change not only with time but also with access to treatment. Thus, a person’s response to therapy can have the greatest impact on their beliefs.

– Some Haitians view illness as punishment or an assault on the body.

– A patient and their friends and family will discuss the illness and may “diagnose” the patient according to symptoms previously experienced by others.

– Illness is considered by some Haitians to arise from an imbalance of the hot/cold equilibrium within the body.

– An illness may also be considered a “natural” disease, known as maladi Bondye (disease of the Lord), or a “supernatural” disease (disease of Satan).”

For a more anthropological account, several of the guide’s sources were written by Paul Farmer, the anthropologist and physician who founded Partners in Health – check his work out!

Also for an excellent anthropological article on medical aid, see How rumors rule cholera-torn Haiti by anthropology PhD candidate Laura Wagner.


Ushahidi (and for the most recent updates)

“In 2008, Kenyan blogger Ory Okolloh was covering the post-election violence in Kenya when she blogged, “Any techies out there willing to do a mash up of where the violence and destruction is occurring using Google Maps?” Within days, two such techies wrote software code for an open-source, Web-based platform that would come to be known as Ushahidi. The name—Swahili for testimony—more or less describes how the platform has been used in places like Gaza, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Chile. The Ushahidi program provides a way for volunteers to collect information from sources like text messages, blog posts, videos, phone calls, and pictures, which are then mapped in near real time.” (Copied from an article by Jessica Ramirez, full article in Newsweek)


“SMS was widely used in Haiti just after the 12 January 2010 earthquake to locate trapped people and save lives. Later, aid agencies began sending out messages about distributions of food and relief supplies.” Learn more with IRIN news.


The U.S. NGO network InterAction has created a pilot website which maps the Haiti aid response of 47 of its member organizations and other agencies. Information on who is doing what where can be accessed by organization, cluster or sector, and location at the commune level. InterAction’s goal is to ultimately map all of their projects worldwide. Read more about geocoding and humanitarian/development work with IRIN news and AidData.


Structural engineering

Miyamoto International are providing structural engineering expertise to support disaster relief efforts in Haiti. This includes assessing building safety, repairing damaged buildings, developing seismic resisting structural systems which are suitable in Haiti, serving as on-site supervisors for the construction process, and training Haitian engineers.

“As of July 5, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) habitability assessments, supported by Miyamoto International and conducted in cooperation with the Government of Haiti (GoH) Ministry of Public Works, Transport, and Communication (MTPTC), had evaluated more than 182,850 structures. To determine the full extent of damage in earthquake-affected areas, Miyamoto International reports that the teams plan to assess 310,000 structures by August 31, completing the Carrefour and Port-au-Prince areas by July 31 and expanding to and completing areas of Jacmel and Léogâne prior to the beginning of September. The assessment teams categorized 47 percent of buildings assessed to date as green or structurally safe for habitation, 27 percent as yellow or requiring minor to moderate repairs, and 24 percent as red or unsafe for habitation and requiring major repairs or demolition.


A Miyamoto International seismic engineer is working with MTPTC engineers to develop a mason training program. The program addresses previous work habits that focused on stretching cement by adding extra sand to the mortar mix or by using the easily available and less costly mountain sand—a soft filler that lacks compression strength. Poor masonry practices directly contributed to the extent of building damage during the earthquake. Miyamoto International retrains masons to utilize improved work habits and best practices.” (Source: USAID)

Designing safe constructions

The design and planning firm Gensler donated designs for the rebuilding of a primary school in Jacmel, Haiti that was completely destroyed in the January earthquake that devastated much of the country.

“The design took many factors into consideration—and ultimately the team proposed simple, cost-effective single story buildings that would be easily constructed by local builders and artisans. Typically, the buildings are of concrete block construction with monopitch concrete-slab roofs. These are methods typical in Haitian construction, a crucial factor in realizing the project, and provide added benefits of thermal mass and opportunity for simple rainwater capture. Nods to traditional Haitian vernacular elements manifest in the detail of door and window openings, which feature brightly colored shutters and ventilation screens, and the suggestion of a ‘front porch’ along the main facades of most buildings.

At a broader site-design level, location of the individual buildings is informed by three key factors: site climate, site usage, and social use. Generally aligned along the north-south direction allows the classroom buildings to capture prevailing westerly winds for natural ventilation in the warm tropical climate, a device which is enhanced by the simple shape of the building section. This siting approach provides a series of connected ‘in-between’ outdoor spaces and courtyards, which function as the key social connectivity device of the project. Community use is seen as a vital part of the life of the school, and buildings addressing these uses serve as permeable but clear intermediaries between the street frontage and more secure inner reaches of the school environment. Lastly, an appropriate clustering of the buildings on the site create hierarchy of outdoor space, distinct community and private outdoor spaces, and a large remaining area on the flattest part of the site, sufficient for eventual use as a half-size soccer pitch.

All of these contribute to what is hoped will become the vibrant, campus-like environment of shared, multi-generational educational experience and community involvement which is envisioned as key to the success of the new school.” (Full news release here)


last updated end 2010 – check lonely planet thorn tree forum and other sources for more recent information

Most embassies still discourage all non-essential travel to Haiti. I can’t really contribute an opinion on this. Haiti is a really beautiful country, both the coast and the mainland. Still, Port-au-Prince would not really be my first holiday destination however, it’s quite a sad sight. If you stay inside a nice hotel and only venture outside for a few nice restaurants, you could enjoy yourself, but that’s not my kind of holiday. Beach resort could work, and maybe one of the other cities (e.g. Jacmel, Cap-Haitien, Port-de-Paix).

In any case, don’t come to Port-au-Prince around the elections (28 November 2010) if it’s not for work, it could turn out a little rocky.

If you do want information there is a Lonely Planet guide for Dominican Republic and Haiti (from 2008). The Lonely Planet’s online ‘Thorn Tree Forum’ also gives some useful information from people who are there or have been there recently.

There are a good number of operating hotels, at least in Port-au-Prince. Much of the capacity of those open is taken up by NGO and UN employees and journalists however, so book well in advance! has a good overview with reviews (check for post-earthquake reviews). Emailing usually works, but I would definitely recommend you call them to make sure things are clear, or at least get a working phone number in advance (often phone numbers are outdated- however sometimes they just don’t work at one point, but do later.. it’s a constant hassle). Print out reservation confirmations and such emails, as when you get there apparently prices may change unless you show these prints.

If you do come, or are living here, you could contact Jacqualine Labrom of Voyages Lumiere Haiti ( for events in Port-au-Prince and weekend trips. She sends regular emails with things to do, so if you live here you can ask her to add you.


last updated end 2010 – check lonely planet thorn tree forum and other sources for more recent information

Some practical details after 2 months in-country. I’m indicating prices if it can be a helpful reference, but be aware that it can widely vary. Generally, things are expensive.

– There are quite a number of ATMs that usually work for VISA credit cards, giving out a maximum of 15,000 Haitian gourdes a day per card = about US $375. ATMs I know are at the Sogebank, at the Épi d’Or fast-food restaurants, and at “Giant” supermarket.

– In terms of security, most NGOs have curfews ranging between 11:00 and 01:00.  Most NGO workers also are only allowed to travel by car, sometimes at least 2 cars, sometimes only with bodyguard. A lot of NGOs had less rules before the earthquake, and it’s considering the upcoming elections too. I try to follow ‘good sense’ measures, though it’s hard to estimate sometimes. So far I only travel by car too. Since I don’t have a bodyguard or security intel, I rely on some friends who do for information, as well as the U.S. warden messages:

– Traffic in Port-au-Prince is unpredictable, but probably congested, especially between 7 and 9am, and starting from 4pm. I can easily spend 3 hours a day in the car if appointments are in different parts of the city.

– If you want to go outside Port-au-Prince, a 4×4 is most probably necessary. Cars might make it on the main roads, but could be blocked in case of rain and a non-existant bridge.

– If you plan on driving yourself, know that it is ‘the rule of the jungle’. I pay my driver US$18/day, and more for evening, weekend hours, and out-of-capital trips.

– Hotels (maybe an average of $100 a night) and renting an own place (a little difficult to find) are both expensive, especially as most have their own generators since the electricity supply is not stable. I rent a two-room appartment for US$1400, incl. W/G/E, and pay an additionnal US$60/month for Internet, and US$60/month for a cleaning & laundry.

– I rent a little Chinese ‘Chery QQ’ car for US$ 50/day, and if needed a 4×4 Terios for US$95/day. These are small cars, from what I understand car rental doesn’t get very much cheaper.

– There are quite a number of well-stocked supermarkets in the city, especially in Pétionville and along Delmas road. Imported goods can be expensive.

– There are a good number of nice and/or fancy restaurants, especially in Pétionville (e.g. Papaye, Magdoos, Quartier Latin, Coin des Artistes, Mozaik, Casa Nova, Fior di Latte, etc.). My favourites are Magdoos, which is a fancy lebanese restaurant, and Coin des Artistes, which is a more relaxed restaurant serving grilled seafood. There is nice dancing going on at Quartier Latin (live Cuban band Thursday night), and Pres Café (live compas band Saturday night), Jet-Set (club music, but more agreeable setting than a club since it’s outside with a roof), and Tempo Plus (dancing school with a salsa night), and other places which I don’t know of course. In some of these places you do end up bumping into a lot of the same people (UN, NGO, wealthy Haitian business-owners).

– Internet is available in many hotels (e.g. Kinam, Ibo Lele, Karibe) and some restaurants (e.g. Pizza Garden, Casa Nova), which you can use if you ask and order a drink or two. Getting a connection set up at home is do-able, you can even get mobile internet on your laptop, and on BlackBerrys and Iphones. Not very fast and not always online, but reliable enough.

– Currently there’s a cholera epidemic going on. I am not vaccinated: the vaccine only provides about 50% protection for a few months; prevention is not very complicated; treatment is effective in 95% of cases when administered properly and soon enough (but it’s not fun..). Cholera can only be transmitted if you ingest the bacteria through the mouth: that is if you eat infected food, drink infected water, or eat with infected hands. The bacteria is transmitted through human feces, and due to poor water and sanitation may thus contaminate tap water, waters used to water fruit and vegetable fields, etc. Drink only bottled or purified water (e.g. through chlorine tablets) – this includes ice cubes. Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating. Peel all fruits and vegetables that you want to eat raw, or let them rest for at least 10 minutes in chlorinated water. Boil/cook everything else very well. (or do both..) Keep flies off of food. Some NGOs have instructed their staff to not eat street food anymore. As soon as there are symptoms (mainly heavy diarrhea, possibly with vomit), get medical attention. Most important is to stay re-hydrated (use oral rehydration salts), and to dispose properly of waste so as to prevent infection of others. Do get proper medical attention though! If you are very de-hydrated (and it can go very fast), you will need to be hooked up on IV, and antibiotics will help you cure faster.

– Speaking of health: ‘Where there is no doctor’ is a great book for advice on health matters, from nutrition to fever to tropical diseases to antibiotics. It’s a very useful reference even where there are doctors and can be downloaded for free at The Hesperian Foundation

1 Response to More on Haiti

  1. Pingback: From the Low Lands to the Land of Mountains

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