Crazy Town, Crazy Island – Memorial to the workers

We eventually found our way to the entrance to the National GIS (or CNIGS), on an affluent hillside.  I walked up to the reception and asked for my contact, Bobby.  The centre was housed in a number of buildings, many of which seemed to be prefabricated and modern.  The walkways between the offices were all in good condition and seemed new.  There was a good reason for this.  CNIGS had moved from its old offices after the earthquake; the old building of a typical simple concrete construction had pancaked during the quake and killed the director of the institute and nine other staff members.  A large part of the building was destroyed and as well as the horrific loss of life, much of the equipment and the large reserves of data about Haiti were also lost.  I noticed on my way out that a memorial to the staff who lost their lives had been placed against the outside wall of the first building.  On a shiny brass plaque the names of the dead staff were mentioned, and a map of Haiti had been made out of jagged lumps of stone.  I never asked, but I suspected that in fact they were pieces of rubble from the original building.

It was not the first time I came across a personal impact of the earthquake.  Here were a group of people doing a job very similar to mine, working with maps and GIS and data to help the decision makers, the visitors, the community at large, to have the best available spatial data for their meetings, studies, atlases or websites.  They were in their offices doing all those jobs at the time of the quake and in a flash their lives were wiped out.  Standing in front of this tastefully minimalist monument  was a solemn interlude in my busy day, and its positioning on the first building as you came in the entrance meant that the staff were reminded of their dead colleagues every day they came to work.

CNIGS had considerable support from the global GIS community who donated equipment, training, volunteers and then helped them find this new temporary home.  A new permanent building was being designed elsewhere in the city, and new procedures to keep safe the valuable archive of mapped data were in progress, and hopefully safeguarding the lives of the staff too.

I had obtained most of the data that I needed from CNIGS, for which I was very grateful as it saved me a lot of time.  I was so used to spending days scurrying round many offices spending hours explaining the project, gaining the trust of the staff, trying to get data and in many cases being frustrated when either bureaucracy or downright pigheadness got in the way.  I am always amazed when I find generous people who understand that releasing the data in to your hands will add value to its existence, help the nation you are in and you are not robbing anyone of anything.  The next day was spent by me in the hotel  sorting the huge amount of data into something that I would be able to use in the next visit for the final outputs.  Christophe and Jean Luc headed north to visit some existing fish farms.

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