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Haiti: tropical beauty contrasts starkly with filthy conditions

As I look out of my guest house window, I can see trees swaying in the breeze, and sunlight washing the hillside that surrounds Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city.  On the way to visit a Haitian family a few days ago, I drove along a coastal road, with turquoise waters lapping a small stretch of beach.

Somehow, these elements of beauty serve to highlight and contrast with the immense suffering and poverty here. The view from my window hides the horrors that almost 1 million people face living in the 1,354 spontaneous camps that have evolved in Haiti over the past year – crowded and filthy conditions equal to the worst I’ve ever seen before.

Tents line every bit of available space in Port-au-Prince – parks, ruins of houses, even the central reservation between two lanes of busy traffic in the Carrefour area of Port-au-Prince.  How desperate would you have to be as a parent to have no other option than to make a central reservation a home for your children? Camping tents, makeshift tents made of plastic sheeting branded with donor names, even tents labels with ‘People’s Republic of China’ — all sites line up within an inch of one another. Rubbish is strewn all over the sides of the roads, and fills canalised channels running through the city.

But, in amongst this chaos, there is evidence of enterprise — people selling food, mobile phone credit, candles, clothes. Seeing this reminds me of the resilience of the Haitian people who are rightly unwilling to settle for the current state of affairs. A year after a cataclysmic disaster, and life goes on one way or another. It’s up to Save the Children and other agencies to do what we can to support families to look after themselves and help the state become stronger so it can better serve its people.

I’m reminded that just a few hours away by car is the Dominican Republic – a place famed for its all-inclusive tropical holiday resorts, for westerners seeking the Caribbean sun and sea.  How can one island share so much disparity?

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