- Obama takes aim at ‘corporate deserters’
- Dick’s Sporting Goods lays off 478 PGA golf pros
- Senators: Cease-fire must allow Israel to defend against rockets, tunnels
- Sierra Leone doctor fighting Ebola catches disease
- Iraq welcomes Russian fighter jets, helicopter gunships into ISIL fight
- John McCain laments: Obama’s ‘self-pity … is really kind of sad’
- GOP offer to fix VA gives $10 billion in emergency funds
- Paul Ryan offers to repair U.S. economic safety net with a single grant stream
- Kim Jong-un builds bond with Putin: $250M Russia-backed addition to key port opens
- Pope Francis meets Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death
Death a costly prospect for Haitians living in poverty
Question of the Day
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Life has always been a struggle for Haiti’s poor. These days, death isn’t much easier.
The city morgue is under-refrigerated — jammed to capacity with unclaimed corpses and so short of funds that workers don’t have paper masks to ward off the stench.
Deforestation has inflated the price of coffin wood, and hundreds — possibly thousands — of deaths in street violence are pushing up the price of funerals. Robbers plunder graves for coffins to resell, and families try to thwart them by smashing the coffin before it is covered with earth.
Some bereaved families are taking out high-interest “funeral loans,” falling deep into debt to send off relatives with the dignity that many were deprived of in life. Others have to abandon their dead on a dusty field known as Titanyen, a Creole word meaning “less than nothing,” on the edge of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
A funeral costs about $540 — what most Haitians earn in four months. Cremation is only for the wealthy.
Haiti’s largest public morgue, built to hold 390 cadavers, often has nearly 500, many strewn on the cement floor for lack of space. The dead include shooting victims, AIDS victims and babies who never saw their first birthday.
It costs a relative $27 just to pick up a body if it was dropped off at the morgue, and $47 if the morgue had to collect it off the street. As a result, few bodies are claimed by relatives. They end up in a common grave outside the capital, along with those dumped at the Titanyen field.
“If the families don’t have money to claim the bodies, they simply never show up,” said morgue director Sergo Castor.
Marie Nicola’s son was found dead in the street, his skull bashed in by unknown assailants in the taxi he was driving. The 62-year-old unemployed mother said she does not know whether she will be able to afford a decent burial.
“After you pay the morgue, you have to buy clothes for the body, a coffin and pay the church and the cemetery. We don’t have anything, so it’s very hard,” Mrs. Nicola said outside the morgue as relatives consoled her.
Outside the morgue, freelance undertakers with beaten-up old hearses stand ready to haggle over a funeral price. It’s an entirely uncontrolled market.
“Sometimes, you can see the economic situation of the person, and you can negotiate a lower price. I’m human, too, so it affects me when people want to bury a relative, but can’t pay,” said Carl Fanfan, an undertaker.
The Rev. Rick Frechette is a Catholic priest with the Illinois-based charity Friends of the Orphans, which runs an orphanage and a children’s hospital in Haiti.
Trying “to do something a little more human for those that have died,” the group makes coffins from papier-mache instead of wood and provides free burials for about 40 people a month, Father Frechette said.
Mrs. Nicola said she’ll ask relatives to chip in for her son’s burial.
By Michael Widlanski
Leveling the battlefield to aid terrorists enables evil to fight on
- 'We're coming for you, Barack Obama': Top U.S. official discloses threat from ISIL terrorists
- NAPOLITANO: What if our democracy is a fraud?
- Obama orders Pentagon advisers to Ukraine
- Hamas rejects Kerry's call for cease-fire; Fears grow others could join fight against Israel
- Evidence shows Russia firing artillery into Ukraine: Pentagon
- Norway expects imminent 'concrete threat' from ISIL terrorists 'within days'
- Tom Petty: 'No one's got Christ more wrong than the Christians'
- Cutler wins endorsement from gun control group
- Eugenie Bouchard pulls out of D.C.'s Citi Open
- Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala blame U.S. for border children crisis
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq