After the storms, travel is almost impossible in remote areas of Haiti

By Olbert Nicolas
Haitians wade across a submerged highway in Gonaives, Haiti.

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When I got up in the morning, I knew it would not be a typical day. For several days, travel out of Petite Rivière de Nippes—and the entire department for that matter—was virtually impossible. The river in town had breached its banks, destroying large sections of the road leading out of town towards Mirogane. To cross the river would be treacherous at best. Leaving at 9 a.m., I made by way to the river via motorcycle. We crossed on foot, the motto-taxi driver struggling to hold on to the bike.

I eventually made it to Mirogane, the main city in the department, which had also been severely affected by both Gustav and Hanna. Here things got interesting. As I made my way along Route Nationale #2, I began noticing trucks full of produce lined up on the side of the road. They were carrying avocados, bananas, and other fresh produce from the South and Grand Anse to be sold in the markets of Port-au-Prince. However, they would not make it to those markets because the bridge on the highway was 1.5 meters?or nearly five feet?under water. The women who had purchased the merchandise in order to resell it, were clearly distraught as the fruits and vegetables had already begun to rot.

As I neared the bridge, or where the bridge should have been, Haitian police officers were posted to prevent vehicles from attempting to cross. A few days earlier, the Haitian government formally closed the highway.

Already in the days following the closing of the road, a group of entrepreneurs had organized alternative transportation for foot passengers and small loads. A shuttle-ferry system had been established. For 15 Haitian gourdes—roughly 38 cents—a man carries you on his back or shoulders and puts you in a "chario," a small wooden boat. Once full, two or three men push the boat across the 229-foot stretch of water to the other side, where for another 15 gourdes, another man takes you on his shoulders to dry land. Here I was able to get on public transport into Port-au-Prince.

Despite this alternative transportation, the road closure combined with the extensive damage caused by the storms will have a great impact on the area. The inability of aid groups to use the road means that help will be slow to reach the isolated areas most affected by the storms. There are great public health risks and food security issues that will need to be addressed in the coming days, weeks, and months and access to the area is critical.