PORT-AU-PRINCE — This is a tale of an island relentlessly pounded by water, and the governments of two poor nations in the midst of political transitions reacting to the worst natural disaster on Hispaniola in at least a half century.
On the Dominican side of the border, the president has just been democratically defeated and the new one has not yet taken office, and in Haiti, another president was recently violently overthrown, and it isn’t clear who is ordained with executing the government’s day to day responsibilities.
Both countries are as close to political limbo as they are likely to ever be at the same time. But both have had to put aside differences to aid their fellow countrymen during the floods that left hundreds and possibly thousands dead this past week in the remote border regions.
Relief efforts have been starkly different in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and nowhere is that more clear than at the two worst-hit areas: Jimani on the Dominican side and Mapou in Haiti.
”Whatever we have asked the [Dominican] government for, they send us,” said Edwin Olivares, chief of operations in Jimani for the National Emergency Commission. “I’ve heard that’s not the case in Haiti.”
Haitian radio commentators around the country are calling for Haitians to unite, one of them saying that the floods have had the same effect in unifying Haitians as 9/11 did in unifying Americans. But not everyone feels that is the case.
One United Nations official, who asked that his name not be used, called the Haitian government a ”ghost government” and said the only reason relief has reached the people of Mapou and Fond-Verrettes in the last few days is because of the international military coalition temporarily intervening in Haiti.
”Were it not for the interim force, there would be zero support,” the U.N. official said.
“All the humanitarian relief has been transported by military helicopters. The Haitian government should organize their own people to go there.”
Further clouding matters, the American-led military coalition here is expected to hand over power to the U.N. in the next few days. But Lapan said the handover would not affect aid efforts.
The Dominican congress declared a state of emergency in the area of Jimani on Tuesday and sent in mobile power plants, a mobile water purifier and provisions immediately, Olivares said.
The situation in Haiti is also much different because the dirt roads leading to Mapou and Fond-Verrettes were washed out by the heavy rains, leaving them reachable only by air.
American military officers acknowledge that were it not for their presence in Haiti, aid to Mapou and Fond-Verrettes may have taken much longer. U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said it was the international force that took the initiative as soon as reports of the floods began coming in Monday.
”Because of our assets, it’s been something we have been able to do that probably would not have been possible if our forces had not been here,” Lapan said of aid efforts to the survivors. “The long-term solution will be to rely on the government and have the U.N. and international organizations supply long-term needs. Right now the focus is on the people who survived and getting aid to them.”
The World Food Program has worked with the military to ship in tens of thousands of pounds of food, water and emergency provisions in the area. Guy Gaureau, the director of WFP in Haiti, said the government was doing all it could with the few resources at its disposal.
”The Dominican government has more resources and their civil defense is more organized,” Gaureau said. “In Haiti it’s different because they have no resources, not because they have no willingness.”
Lapan said top Haitian government officials have been flown into the area to assess the disaster and determine how to proceed. He said the Haitian government had not requested any sort of aid in recovering and burying bodies.
That has fallen mostly on the shoulders of the Red Cross. Red Cross officials said their efforts are slow because many of the bodies are in several lakes that now cover what used to be Mapou and there are no boats available. The military was airlifting in two small inflatable boats on Saturday.
Herald staff photographer Carl Juste contributed to this report.