Changes upon changes

11 Mar

So. End of the third day back in Haiti.

I was out for only two weeks: a nanosecond in long-term development terms. But time enough for a total sea-change in the emergency response world.

In the time I was away the UN logs base has been completely rearranged. The by now famous OSOCC tent had not even been pitched when I left: Now it’s the new NGO hang-out, and the gazebo with WFP logos all over and pup-tents all around feels downright secluded. Some cluster meetings are now being held in containers rather than tents and there’s a new graded, graveled car park where there had previously been a jumble of pre-fab offices.

“Store Blue” still has an okay selection of slightly over-priced wines and packaged foods. Good to know that some things stay the same.

* * *

There are other changes, too.

The expanse of grey buildings in Cite Soleil and Carrefour that you see from the airplane window during final approach is now heavily checkered with blue tarpaulins. Specific small mountains of rubble that I remember from last time have now been totally cleared away. Those brigades of yellow USAID T-shirt wearing laborers are now farther out, up the hill towards Petion-Ville. The ratio of proper tents and/or tarpaulins to simple bedsheet tents is higher than before (tents and tarps still needed, though). Traffic is heavier, markets are more crowded and more restaurants are open. We even managed to find Thai food the other night, and it was actually pretty good.

I’m pleased at the absence of lines for the dripping water tanks. I assume this means that those people have access to other water. I’m a tiny bit concerned at the absence of the big distribution near our office – I hope those people are still getting enough to eat (plus I kinda miss seeing the female Nepali MINUSTAH troops…😉 ).

* * *

Programmatically, we’re at that uncomfortable stage where the immediate intensity of the early disaster response is passing, but it is still inappropriate to fully transition away from relief interventions. Livelihoods options are still scarce. Land tenure and the location of all five of the rumored large-ish relocation sites remain under intense discussion – the upshot being that we still do not have a very clear picture of where the dis-located are going to be, physically, six months from now. We’re in that incredibly unsexy period between when the cameras are rolling and the world’s attention is focused on the drama, and the time when we can really begin those longer-term community development programs. It’s relief work, but with less urgency.

* * *

“Routine” is a better word here than “normal.” It’s not so much a return to normal as of easing into a sort of “new normal” routine. And that routine brings both good and bad. The chaos of the initial emergency response is beginning to subside, and earthquake survivors and aid workers alike breath a little easier, sleep better at night, eat more regularly. People are getting on with life.

And unfortunately that return to seems to include crime as well.

Incidents against aid workers globally over the past several days serve as over-the-top reminders that things have changed a lot in the last ten years or so. In some parts of the world it is, for all practical purposes, open season on aid workers. Recent events even here in Haiti serves as a stern warning that disaster zones such as this one very often have their own dangers as well, some obvious, others not.

* * *

I wish I had some deep insight or clever analysis to offer, but right now the well is pretty dry.

On the Concert in Central Park album Simon and Garfunkle do a version of “The Boxer” that has a verse not included in the studio version. One line in that verse:

 “After changes upon change we are more or less the same…”

I’m getting déjà vu here. Changes are afoot. Some in Haiti. Others elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how this all turns out…

Pearls of wisdom

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