Misery and gangs behind Haiti’s tanker tragedy

The misery in which a majority of Haitians survive and the stranglehold of gangs on the country worsened the toll of the explosion on Tuesday of a tanker truck in Haiti’s second city, in which at least 66 people are dead.

“We have a population that lives in extreme poverty,” explains Marie-Rosy Auguste Ducena, activist for the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights.

“Consequently, this desire to go and collect the gasoline at the level of the truck’s tank was fueled by the idea that people thought they could resell this fuel,” she laments.

According to Patrick Almonor, deputy mayor of the city of Cap-Haitien, the driver of the tanker would have tried to avoid a collision with a motorcycle taxi, thus losing control of his vehicle which overturned.

Fuel turned to gold

“The driver immediately informed of the risks, but people did not believe him and, on the contrary, went to look for hammers and other tools to be able to pierce the cistern and recover the gasoline”, tells with fear Mr.me Ducena. She deplores “a cruel lack of training of the population, who thinks they can handle petroleum products in any way”.

Sixty-two people were killed at the scene of the explosion and four others died in hospital from their injuries. About fifty injured were taken care of in several hospitals across the country and the critical situation of some raises fears of an even greater toll of this accident.

“Fuel has turned to gold today in the country and there it was“ free ”fuel. This is what worsened the toll, ”said the deputy mayor of Cap-Haitien. According to him, if residents of the accident were killed in their homes, “the majority of dead people were around the tank to take fuel”.

In a country plagued by natural disasters and political instability, more than 60% of the 11 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank.

Gang control

With the Haitian authorities regularly running out of cash to meet the bills of petroleum product distributors, fuel shortages have been recurrent in recent years, but the crisis took on a whole new dimension at the end of the summer.

In September, the gangs, long confined to the slums of Port-au-Prince, took control of the roads leading to the three oil terminals in the country.

More than a dozen fuel transport vehicles were hijacked by the armed bands, who demanded heavy ransoms for the drivers’ release.

This increased control of gangs across the country is more widely endangering all transport between Port-au-Prince and the provincial towns.

Two national roads connect Cap-Haitien to the capital, but one of them crossing an area controlled by a criminal group, the traffic of goods is today concentrated on the axis which crosses the mountain range located in the center of the country.

“Sometimes, bandits also block this road to the Central Plateau and, at that time, no vehicle can reach the capital,” says Patrick Almonor, who deplores the lack of decentralization in Haiti.

“We depend on Port-au-Prince because, even if we have a port here, we do not have our own oil terminal”, he denounces. “The availability of products is not guaranteed and this pushes people to stock, for their business or to resell” on the black market, analyzes the deputy mayor of the city of nearly 300,000 inhabitants.

The next disaster

As early as Tuesday, Prime Minister Ariel Henry visited the crash site and declared three days of national mourning, but civil society organizations fear that no lessons will be learned to avoid a repeat of ‘such a drama. “People who slept in their homes are burned to death and injured survivors are struggling to receive health care, because there are no specialized hospitals,” said Marie-Rosy Auguste Ducena indignantly.

“Are we just going to have these three days of mourning, just to mourn our dead, count our corpses, and then move on?” »Asks the Haitian lawyer.

“We cry, we do nothing afterwards, and we wait for a next catastrophe of the kind”, summarizes with resentment Mme Ducena.

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