Response focuses on survivors

Disaster organizations send supplies, medical help, as they plan for long-term response

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | BALTIMORE | January 18, 2010


A boy eats his meal as he watches a long line of Port-au-Prince residents waiting to receive water from the local fire department.
Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Haitians, now homeless or fearful of staying inside, live in makeshift camps like this one in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. More than 60 such camps have sprung up around the city.
Credit: Reformed Church in America/David Dethmers

More than a week after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, dozens of disaster response organizations from the U.S. and around the globe are focusing on how to best help the survivors.

Many organizations are working with partners who were in Haiti before the disaster hit, while others have sent staff and supplies to plan a long-term response.

According to disaster responders, the most critical immediate need is water followed closely by finding safe places for the survivors to stay. About half of the buildings in Port-au-Prince were either destroyed or are unsafe for habitation. Continuing aftershocks have added to the anxiety of Haitian residents. Thousands are living in the open or in more than 60 so-called tent cities that have sprung up around Port-au-Prince.

"At this point, water is a critical need on the ground. People have been without access to water for days in warm temperatures," said John Nunes, president of Lutheran World Relief (LWR). “Water is at a premium,” agreed Raymond Chevalier, who is helping coordinate logistics for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) just 50 percent of Haiti's population had access to clean drinking water before the earthquake. “A high proportion of the 3 million people in the capital area (Port-au-Prince) are without access to food, water, shelter and electricity,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Friday.

"Most people in Haiti are self-sufficient with water collection systems, but at this point those systems are leaking water and not working," explained Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, area director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). He was part of an MCC team that flew into the region last week.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 80 percent of its population living below the poverty line, further complicating an already devastating disaster.

In Port-au-Prince, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti has set up a camp for Haitians who are seeking refuge. "It is a camp the size of a football field where Bishop Duracin and the church leadership are serving thousands of survivors,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs. The diocese is providing food, water and other supplies, as they are available.

Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) has also partnered with IMA World Health to provide medical assistance to the wounded in and around Port-au-Prince. IMA World Health is a non-profit organization with working relationships throughout Haiti.

Katie Mears, Program Manager for ERD's USA Disaster Preparedness and Response, is traveling to the Dominican Republic to further assess the situation and coordinate the agency’s response to this disaster.

David Dethmers, Coordinator for Reformed Church World Service, who was in Port-au-Prince Sunday said he saw water trucks providing drinking water to earthquake survivors who he said patiently waited in line for their turn to receive a gallon or two of water.

Open-air food markets, he said, were beginning to open and fruit and vegetables appeared to be in good supply although there were not many customers. In the areas he traveled, food supplies appeared adequate, but he noted in a report posted on the RCA Website that "there is great concern about long term food sustainability as current supplies in the country dwindle."

A delegation from the RCA, including the Rev. James Seawood, General Synod President, was in Haiti visiting churches when the earthquake struck.

Pastors and staff from the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) will be in Haiti this week. When a series of hurricanes struck Haiti in 2008, BDM stepped in to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes, with the help of Haitian churches. Roy Winter, director of BDM, said they believe the houses made it through unscathed and the organization will be assessing what support it can provide to earthquake survivors.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), with other response organizations, plans to coordinate much of its efforts from the Dominican Republic.

"Haiti doesn’t have large reserves of food and other supplies at the best of times so the existing supplies are expected to be exhausted very soon after which all supplies will have to come in from abroad," said CRWRC’s Disaster Response Director, Jacob Kramer. "In addition the container cranes at the port in Port-au-Prince cannot be used."

Like other responders, CRWRC is focusing first on water, food and medical aid for disaster survivors and will later focus on housing needs. According to an article on the organization's Website, CRWRC in partnership with Trojan Industries, is sending three small, self-contained water purification plants. In addition, Kramer reports, CRWRC is working with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to provide rice, cornmeal and beans. "Our first medical team arrived last week," he said, adding that a specialized orthopedic team is on its way.

Elsa Moreno, coordinator of the Rapid Support Team of Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance, a global partnership of faith-based disaster response and relief organizations, will be in the region Tuesday. She said ACT Alliance is particularly concerned about the large number of people who have fled to smaller communities away from the capital city, which is putting a lot of strain on those areas as well.

She said ACT would attempt "to assess the number of people going to those areas which are away from response of other agencies. The main work will focus on water, shelter and care for children."

The Disciples of Christ, Week of Compassion (WOC), is working with partner organizations in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. According to the Rev. Amy Gopp, said a partner in the Dominican Republic, the Servicios Sociales de Iglesias Dominicanas, (SSID) has already airlifted material aid to Haiti and will continue to do so. Week of Compassion is supporting ACT Alliance partners already in Haiti including: Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), Christian Aid, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH), and Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO).

Gopp said her organization is encouraging members to send cash donations and to assemble emergency kits (baby and hygiene) for Church World Service.

Several organizations, including The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and ADRA are working with GlobalMedic, a local partner organization, which is distributing water purification tablets and other water cleaning supplies. A team of doctors and emergency specialists has already begun providing medical assistance to the injured. The group plans to set-up a 22 ft. x 42 ft. inflatable field hospital to focus on restoring medical services and infrastructure and will train local aid groups how to use the facility for as long as it is needed.

A spokesperson for UMCOR said that organization would be providing emergency response in partnership with other ACT Alliance members, Church World Service, and the Methodist Church in Haiti. "We are working with our partners on the ground to provide immediate relief to the people in Haiti," said Melissa Crutchfield.

In addition to cash donations, UMCOR is encouraging its members to create Health Kits that can be shipped to the region.

Two UMCOR executives were killed in the collapse of a hotel in which they were meeting. (See separate story.)

Church World Service (CWS) has sent funds to area partners and is sending blankets and is preparing the first shipment of emergency kits.

Several U.S.-based organizations including UMCOR and IMA World Health already have Haiti-based programs and staff.

LWR is working with Catholic Relief Services, local partners in Haiti, and other international faith-based organizations to deliver water containers and purification materials, as well as temporary shelter items. The organization is also sending a shipment of layettes and health kits to Haiti this week.

The Salvation Army, which has some 60 community centers across Haiti, is sending emergency food rations to serve more than 285,000 meals. The Army has had a presence in Haiti since 1950.

While hope is dimming of finding many more people alive in the rubble of collapsed building, efforts are continuing to search for anyone who may still be rescued.

A number of aid organizations including ADRA and the United Nations are still searching for staff members who are still missing following the earthquake. In addition, organizations like the World Association for Christian Communication were also searching for news about members who have not yet been located. Social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter have lists of people who are missing and reports of people who have been located.


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