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April 19, 2010

Haiti, Three Months Later

HSI continues to improve the long-term situation for the animals

Humane Society International

  • Animals still need help. © HSI

  • A treacherous pass. © HSI

  • Huge mounds of debris remain. © HSI

by Chris Broughton-Bossong

On my most recent trip to Haiti, I was joined by an HSI disaster response volunteer and a representative from Best Friends Animal Society. After a day-long drive from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic through jungle and mountains to the Haitian border, our team arrived at the Ministry of Agriculture's veterinary office outside of Port-au-Prince. After all of our deployments to Haiti following January's earthquake, we have built a strong relationship with the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and we are looking forward to working together on a number of projects to help the animals and people of the disaster-struck nation.

After spending several days working to solidify plans for long-term programs in Haiti, our team spent the next four days traveling across the southeastern peninsula of the country to assess the outlying effects of the earthquake and the general conditions of both domestic and farm animals in those areas, and to begin to making contacts that will help facilitate our future trainings and clinics.

Donkeys only!

On the first leg of this journey, our departure from Port-au-Prince was slowed as our route through Petionville and into the mountains led us off of paved roads and onto rocky mountain passes that were made more treacherous by the remnants of recent rockslides. At one point, our vehicle reached a very narrow pass that was about six feet wide and had been alarmingly reinforced with sandbags. We realized that no vehicles could attempt this crossing; the only ones making this trek were farmers and their donkeys carrying goods to market, roughly 15 miles away.

Were it not for the use of these donkeys, individuals farming in the more mountainous regions would have no way to bring their crops to market and thus sustain themselves and their families. HSI has five long-term projects planned for Haiti and helping to increase the welfare and veterinary care of working equines is one of those programs. As we were attempting to travel this route in an SUV rather than on the back of a donkey, we decided it safest to turn around and tack on a few extra hours of travel rather than risking the rocky precipice that this particular mountain pass dropped into.

By nightfall we came out of the mountains and into Jacmel, a coastal town that was a contrasting display of natural beauty and devastating damage. On the outskirts of town there were a couple of nice hotels—inhabited by UNICEF and other United Nations workers rather than vacationing Haitians and Caribbean tourists—that rested right along the water and beaches, but as we moved into the center of town, tents and rubble began to line the streets. Dogs nervously wove their way between the makeshift shelters and the piles of debris searching for food and shelter from the blazing sun. Another project among the HSI plans includes helping street dogs through spay/neuter programs and the offer of general veterinary care. HSI plans to create the first-of-its-kind "Animal Welfare and Care Center" in the Port-au-Prince area to reach both owned and street dogs with much-needed veterinary care.

Concern and compassion still prevail

After departing Jacmel, our team moved on to a small but bustling port town called Petit Goave. The town square was crowded with vendors, shoe stands, and orange tape marking off areas of collapse and rubble from the surrounding buildings. At one end of the central square stood a massive pair of steel gates leading to the harbor where a cargo ship was docked. Just to the left of the gates was the shell of a decadent colonial hotel that had crumbled during the earthquake and now lay condemned.

As night fell on the city, we saw the daytime vendors hand off their spots on the street to those who worked through the night: gambling stands and hot dog peddlers set up shop and began to ply their trade into the evening. As we watched from a balcony, amongst the noise and commotion of the streets, we observed an elderly woman on crutches walk out to the square, purchase a plate of rice and hot dogs, make her way to a bench and begin to feed some of the dogs who made their beds in the central park. It was a most reassuring moment to witness, to be reminded that in a country that has faced such prolonged hardship and recent catastrophe, concern and compassion still prevail. At daybreak, we made our way back to Port-au-Prince.

What's next?

Since the arrival of HSI's first team in Haiti following the quake, we have been working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, other nonprofit organizations and missionary groups to implement a variety of trainings, clinics and programs in the country. During our last trip, we ironed out the details of preparing to host the first animal disaster response training for veterinarians in Haiti. It is quite a large undertaking, as roughly 100 attendees from the veterinary field and the Haitian government will be present. We have received a very supportive and encouraging response from the Ministry of Agriculture on all fronts, but particularly with regard to this training. It will be an excellent opportunity to bring all of the nearly 70 vets in the country together to discuss and help outline methods of cooperative response for such natural disasters as the recent earthquakes and the numerous hurricanes that reach Haiti's coast every year. This opportunity will be one of the many endeavors that our team will continue to see through as the country recovers and works to stabilize itself.

Chris Broughton-Bossong is Haiti Program Coordinator for HSI.

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