Sunday, January 16, 2011

Transport and Logistics

T-minus ten-and-a-bit days until departure from Dublin to Haiti, via New York.

The logistics of getting to somewhere in Haiti are never easy, even to Port-au-Prince. This is even more apparent since the earthquake. On previous journeys to Gros Morne, transport had been arranged by other parties. Through my own ignorance, I assumed these plans fell into place somewhat spontaneously. This week has seen a series of emails bounce around between Shankill, UCD, Haven in Dublin, Haven in Port-au-Prince, Architects for Humanity in Port-au-Prince, Kai Jezi Marie in Gros Morne and some petroleum-laden spot in Uganda, in a fashion that Interpol would have reason to question. Nonetheless, two days later, and we nearly have everything sorted. Nearly.

Without a doubt, the most difficult journeys are those within Haiti. State-run bus service? Negative. State-funded roads even? Hmmm, arguably. In some places.

Having spoken to a few people in Haiti about it before, I would agree with them that a system of reliable concrete roads is something that has hindered Haiti's development for some time. One of the speedbumps we tried to avoid during the UCDVO projects in 2009 and 2010 was the arduous trip to Port-au-Prince, or anywhere more than an hour away for that matter. However, for most goods aside from the basics, this trip is a necessity. Likewise for any sort of medical procedure requiring specialist equipment.

How do Haitians themselves make these journeys? From what I can see, if they are not lucky enough to own a 4x4, there are a few options available. Firstly, there are some entrepreneurs who run their own bus services between larger towns. This is probably one of the more comfortable methods of transport, if you are lucky enough to get a seat. If not, there are always seats on the roof. Secondly, and more commonly seen, Haitians travel in the back of a pick-up truck, usually with about twenty other humans, and probably some animals. Given the rough terrain, and the lack of seatbelts, this may seem wildly dangerous. However, the system of the 'human seatbelt' works quite effectively, as the passengers are so crammed that nobody really moves at all. Another option is to catch a lift on top of a larger truck. Mango trucks seem to make up a considerable portion of the traffic between Gros Morne and PAP. A tarp is thrown over the mangos, and 3-4 passengers keep the tarp in place. How they hold on for 5+ hours is beyond me.

The roads only lend themselves to large vehicles such as these. You do see many a moto-taxi flying around, but these are only used over short distances. In many places, the road simply follows the path left behind by a river that has run dry. There is a stretch of road between GM and Gonaives that I was told had been laid with concrete in early 2008. The scattered remains of this road can be seen below, a result of the hurricanes in September of the same year. It has returned to the state of typical road in rural Haiti. Driving down these roads, compromised of dry, reddy-grey dirt, and irregular rocks and divets, a cloud forms behind the vehicle. When it rains, the roads revert to rivers, some rendered impassable. The state of these roads also takes it's toll on the vehicles that do traverse their terrains. It would be common for a vehicle to require a service after a 10-12 hour round trip from GM to PAP. These added costs, while generating many jobs for mechanics, are a detriment to the flow of goods and services. The most obvious factor that the roads influence is the duration of travel. Using some rough figures, PAP to GM is about 160 km, analogous to a drive from Dublin to Ballinasloe. In Ireland, according to Google maps, this takes about 1 hour 38 minutes. I'm not sure how long the PAP to GM stint takes in a jeep, but certainly on a bus, it will rarely be done in less than four-and-a-half hours. On the upside however, at the end of the journey, you aren't in Ballinasloe.

If, one day, financial aid moves on from the effects of the earthquake, and into developing Haiti as a country that can move forward and develop a stable economy, the roads should be near the top of the list. Rome wasn't built in a day, but once they got the roads down, sure it didn't take very long at all at all.