Haiti’s best known press freedom activist, Guyler Delva, sent out a frantic call for help yesterday morning. At least 70 journalists and media workers in the northern city of Gonaïves are living in dire circumstances, Delva said in his e-mail. They need food, clothes, and shelter, as well as equipment, he specified. In short, “they have lost everything in the recent floods.”
On the other side of Hispaniola Island from the lavish tourist resorts in the Dominican Republic, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Politically, the harsh Duvalier dictatorships and the controversial Aristide era devastated the country. This year, starving mobs protested the high prices of basic food staples as the international press reported that many are surviving on mud cakes.
In the last few years, the Haitian press has become almost nonexistent. The country’s best journalists have been murdered or have fled following death threats or ominous necessity. Yet, some, like Delva, who is the Reuters and BBC correspondent in Haiti as well as the president of the local press freedom group S.O.S Journalistes, persist. In cities like Gonaïves, these remaining journalists need a second job just to survive. They work with decaying equipment, and that is on the days when they have electricity.
And as if things weren’t harsh enough, three major hurricanes–Gustav, Hannah, and Ike–ravaged Gonaïves, 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Port-au-Prince, between the last week of August and the first of September. The storms trumped the city’s shaky constructions and flooded it from the ground up. Close to 700 people died and at least 1 million were left homeless, according to international press reports.
While Gonaïves’ 70 to 100 journalists and media workers survived the storm, they are barely surviving the aftermath. According to Delva, a majority have lost their homes. They have no cash, and very little access to food or clothes. Their children are unable to attend school. And this is true of most people living in Gonaïves. However, Delva points out, many others are able rely on the little help that the government is providing. But “as you know, even under such circumstances, working journalists have to show reservations when it comes to asking authorities, often the subject of their reporting, for favors such as food, money… for ethical reasons,” Delva said.
And somehow many of these reporters and media workers are still working. Of the 10 radio stations that operated before the storms hit Gonaïves, only four or five are still on the air, Delva told CPJ. Because most of their equipment was destroyed, journalists from different outlets have joined forces and are working on two daily news shows that are broadcast morning and evening on all the stations that are still standing. But as they continue their reporting, Delva said, they grow desperate for help.