PORT-AU-PRINCE – Gas stations began reopening in Haiti on Nov. 12 after the G9 Family & Allies gang lifted a two-month blockade – to the relief of millions who’d been stuck at home. The resulting fuel shortage brought to a halt not only transportation, but the entire country – paralyzing activities across all areas of life, from schools to work to leisure.
To understand the impact of fuel beyond its use for gas in vehicles, The Haitian Times put together this list of 10 major ways Haitians rely on fuel products to live their day-to-day lives.
People commonly use “tap-taps” and “taxi-motos” as an affordable way to move around the country for work, school and errands, especially in the cities. When the price of fuel increases, tap-tap and taxi-moto drivers also raise their fares to cover their expenses.
This usually leads to an increase in the price of retail goods and produce – a domino effect commonly referred to as “lavi chè,” Creole for pricey life. Why? Because farmers and street vendors use public transportation, trucks and vans to carry their merchandise to and from the market.
At almost every corner in Port-au-Prince, there is a tire repair shop. The fuel shortage and the rise in price of petroleum products caused a steep drop in business for the tire repair businesses since fewer vehicles on the road meant few repairs. The shops also use a device called a “compressor” in tire repair that could not function without fuel, further causing a decline in business.
Cooking and eating
Many households turn either to propane gas to operate stove-ovens or to kerosene for smaller stoves. The scarcity of petroleum products and the increase in their prices meant that families found it increasingly difficult to buy fuel to prepare meals.
Charcoal is still widely used in Haiti for cooking, but that has become very expensive. Even it still requires a few drops of fuel to light up quickly.
Many supermarkets had to figure out how to keep products fresh for sale. Many owners lost a lot of produce then raised food prices to the roof to make up for the price of gas.
Schooling and studying
Colleges and universities in need of electricity to run computers, photocopiers and other electronics have also had to get creative with the lack of fuel. At the State University of Haiti, where some courses take place in the evening hours, students said they lit up the classrooms with the flashlights on their telephones.
Electricity and lamplight
Haiti has long faced electrical power outages that leave entire areas in the dark for hours. That’s if an area has electricity at all, especially in the rural areas.
As an alternative, households without electricity use kerosene for lamps called gaz blan. People put this type of fuel into locally-made lamps or ‘lanp tèt gridap’ – which have a cotton wick. The gas-dipped wick is then lit to provide light.
Across Haiti, schoolchildren use these lamps to study and to do their homework after the sundown.
Phones, internet and satellite dishes
Telecommunications companies use fuel to power up cell phone towers, telephone and internet networks equipment. The fuel, stored at the same sites as broadcast satellites, is used in generators as an alternative energy source to the State Electricity of Haiti (EDH). With no fuel, the telecom companies went without power, leaving parts of Haiti isolated and customers with poor communication.
Many traditional radio and TV outlets have stopped broadcasting because they do not have fuel to run the broadcasts nor to operate the satellites. Others modified their programming, choosing to be on air for shorter periods to save energy.
Health and hospitals
Fuel is a life-or-death necessity in hospitals, which rely on it for devices and machinery to function, especially in operating rooms. During the lockdown, hospitals had to shut down as generators ran dry, risking the lives of hundreds of people, health workers have said.
Ambulances, clinics and other healthcare facilities were likewise unable to render life-saving aid at times.
Both public and private morgues went into crisis mode during the past two months, when refrigeration and other body preservation processes reliant on fuel failed. Some bodies decomposed on site as a result, morgue officials have said on local radio.