Haiti after the Quake (Al Jazeera documentary by Sebastian Walker)

Documentaries about Haiti on TV are not very common, and if only for that reason it is interesting to watch this documentary (45 minutes), although the story presented is too simplistic.  Walker accuses the international community and NGOs of creating more harm than good in Haiti.

At the beginning of the documentary, Walker accuses the USA to have landed heavily armed unto Haiti troops in the immediate aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, creating an impression of an invasion and reminding Haitian of previous US military interventions in the country (in 1915-1934 and in 1994). Military planes were given priority over civilian planes bringing humanitarian aid. This, he suggests, is because the USA were convinced that Haiti was a dangerous country where troops would be attacked and robbed at the first opportunity. Walker argues that most Haitians just wanted help to save their relatives buried under the rubbles after the earthquake. Thus, military equipment was totally superfluous and many lives were lost because of the paranoia of the US and UN troops (who often felt threatened when peaceful mobs just wanted to help). Walker might be right about the peaceful intentions of the crowds in many occasions, but one can understand the safety concerns of the US and the UN for their personnel. If soldiers had been kidnapped or killed the military would have been responsible. More disturbing are images of UN soldiers protecting a supermarket which collapsed during the earthquake to prevent ‘looting’, while Walker argues that most people just wanted to find their relatives buried under the concrete; because of the delay and the barricades of UN troops, many of the victims, still alive under the rubbles, died.

Walker also accuses the UN of being responsible for the outbreak of cholera in the country (it has been proven that the virus originated from a UN corps from Nepal), because they did not take the necessary sanitary precautions. Again, knowing how difficult the situation on the ground in Haiti is, it might be a little bit too simple to accuse the UN of negligence. Of course, for Haitians, the situation is very dire now.

The accusations against NGOs in the second part of the documentary are severe. Walker accuses them of being complicit in governmental plans to move refugees away from Port au Prince to desert places far away from everything; of being complicit of evictions policies (some NGOs for example have stopped delivering water to some camps established on private grounds that owners want to repossess); of failing to deliver drinkable waters to camp; of squandering money given by millions of people around the world; of paying themselves high salaries and living in luxurious hotels when people they are supposed to help are starving and dying. Some or all of these criticisms are certainly at least partly valid. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions, as we know. But then again criticizing is easy, art is difficult and this documentary does not offer any solution to the problem he merely highlights.


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