Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Today, we are all Haitians." Part 2

Here are a couple more reports from aid organizations that are already in Haiti.

One thing to remember when giving donations to charities or aid groups is to give money to those who already had people in Haiti. The first few 24 hours after a disaster are when the need is greatest, so you don't want to give money to a group who is sending people there after the fact.

OXFAM says it has 100 people in the country in their appeal for donations that we found at the UK's Ormskirk and Skelmersdale Advertiser.

The public is being asked to donate money to help provide clean water, shelter and medical help to people affected in one of the poorest countries on earth.

Many aid agencies expressed fears that there will be outbreaks of waterborne disease such as cholera in the wake of catastrophic damage to the densely populated capital, Port-au-Prince.

Oxfam, launching an appeal for millions of pounds, said it has a 100-strong team working across the country and would be responding with public health, water and sanitation services to prevent the spread of waterborne disease.

Penny Lawrence, Oxfam's international director, said: "More than 85% of people in Haiti already live in poverty. With major buildings destroyed it is likely that less well-constructed homes will be even more seriously affected.

"This earthquake is grim news for the poor people of Haiti. We are calling for the generous support of the UK public to help us save lives."

Medecins Sans Frontieres reports on the damages to their facilities in Haiti and their efforts to resume service.

The first reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti. They are treating hundreds of people injured in the quake and have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities.

The Martissant health center in a poor area of Port-au-Prince had to be evacuated after the earthquake because it was damaged and unstable. The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from the town. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and fractures. Among them are 50 people suffering from burns—some of them severe—many of them caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buidings. At the Pachot rehabilitation center another 300 to 400 people have been treated. In one of MSF's adminstrative offices in Petionville, another part of Port-au-Prince, a tent clinic there has seen at least 200 injured people. More are getting assistance at what was the Solidarite maternity hospital, which was seriously damaged.

One of MSF's senior staff, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, trying to assess the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. "The situation is chaotic," he said. "I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets."

Another MSF coordinator there, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. "There are hunderds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless," said van Dillen. "We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage."

So many of the city's medical facilities have been damaged, healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high.

CARE is sending more workers to their staff already in Haiti, and has some quotes from their staff on experiencing the earthquake.

CARE is deploying additional emergency team members to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where the worst earthquake in 200 years destroyed houses and left thousands homeless. While the exact death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake is not yet known, it is expected to be catastrophic.

CARE has launched an international appeal for funds for Haiti that will support immediate emergency operations. CARE plans to start food distribution using stocks of high-protein biscuits from its warehouses in Haiti. CARE is coordinating with other U.N. agencies and aid organizations to assess damage and on-the-ground needs.

Initial reports are that homes and buildings across the city have been destroyed, including essential services like hospitals. Electricity is out and phone lines are down across the affected area, restricting available information about the extent of the disaster. Aftershocks continue to rock the area and have caused landslides outside the city.

Sophie Perez, CARE's country director in Haiti, was in the CARE office in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. CARE's staff in the Port-au-Prince office escaped the office safely, but we are still trying to determine if all other staff in the area are safe.

''It was terrifying. It lasted for more than a minute,'' said Perez. ''The whole building was shaking. People were screaming, crying. Last night, people were sleeping outside because they were afraid to go back inside their homes. Many of the houses are destroyed anyway. There were eight aftershocks last night. Everyone was sleeping in the streets. The whole city is affected. It is just morning here now, and I can hear helicopters working on the search and rescue. The immediate need is to rescue people trapped in the rubble, then to get people food and water. We're particularly worried about the children, because so many schools seem to have collapsed. Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped. It's horrifying.''

Dr. Helene Gayle, CARE president and CEO, said, ''This is an extremely serious situation. We currently have 133 personnel on the ground in Haiti and are deploying additional staff immediately to distribute food, hygiene kits and water, as well as to deliver emergency health services.''

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