Saturday, 20 February 2010 18:00 GFP Columnist - Paris Kaye

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010; at approximately 4:53 PM EST, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Haiti region killing 212,069 people and injuring another 300,517. Just over 1.2 million people, or almost 14% of the population, are residing in sheltered areas. So how does one approach this apocalyptic event, offering humanitarian aid and support to this devastated nation? How does one implement a structure in the face of a devastating natural disaster and the ensuing chaos?

In 2005, the Emergency Relief Coordinator of World Health Organization (WHO) launched an independent humanitarian response review to assess humanitarian response capacities of several key international organizations.

The response review’s recommendation was the use of a “cluster” methodology or approach. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, or IASC, designated global cluster leads in eleven areas of humanitarian activity assigning purview to several international organizations.

The key eleven areas on which to focus following disasters such as Haiti include agriculture, camp coordination and management, early recovery efforts, education, emergency shelters, emergency telecommunications, health, logistics (transportation and distribution of food), nutrition, protection/security and the general area that includes water, sanitation and hygiene.

Response, restoration and recovery are the goals in dealing with a humanitarian crisis. The immediate response in Haiti is medical aid, rubble removal including search and rescue, transitional shelter, food security and distribution.

At one point, more than 600 organizations were providing humanitarian aid to Haiti, and currently, 274 organizations are conducting health activities in at least 15 communities. Immediately following the quake, the most pressing need was to rescue people buried in the rubble and provide immediate emergency care for trauma patients. Needs have now changed and focus is on post-operative care and follow-up of patients who have already had surgery as well as basic primary health care services, such as maternal child health, rehabilitation services, and chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, HIV, and tuberculosis, among others.

The Pan American Health Organization (or PAHO) in conjunction with the World Health Organization released, Special Report: Update on the Health Response to the Earthquake in Haiti. This report includes the following information:

“The World Food Program (WFP) reports that 16 food distribution sites across metropolitan Port reached 2 million people in and around Port-au-Prince since the earthquake struck. In a surge operation that began on 31 January, 1.4 million people received two weeks worth of rice. The target population is two million.

According to the CCCM Cluster, a list of all spontaneous temporary settlements contains 315 sites occupied by 468,075 people (91,112 families). Sanitation is becoming a major concern at many of the temporary sites.

The WASH Cluster continues to provide safe drinking water (5 liters per person per day) to over 780,000 people through 300 sites across Port au Prince, Leogane, and Jacmel.

In Jacmel, over 260 temporary settlement sites are receiving water through the distribution efforts of cluster partners. The highest priority for the cluster remains sanitation and the strengthening of monitoring systems for sanitation activities.

IOM is working with some 40 partners to provide mental health and psychosocial support to tens of thousands of earthquake survivors living in spontaneous settlements in Haiti, providing comprehensive psychosocial first aid to some 150,000 individuals and follow-up counseling for up to 10,000 distressed individuals over the coming months.

Six psychosocial mobile teams consisting of Haitian psychologists, social workers, educators, art therapists and cultural animators will deploy in settlements where needs have been identified.

Several community outpatient mobile care centers for the treatment of severely acute malnutrition are operating throughout Haiti. Nutrition Cluster partners have indicated plans to open 52 additional sites within the next two to three weeks. Latest estimates are 577,246 infants; children and pregnant and lactating women were affected. Women in the informal settlements are also being trained as breastfeeding counselors.

UNICEF says some 23 large-sized tents have been installed in Port-au-Prince to give children a place to seek refuge and play. Families are wary of sending children to school because they fear that another earthquake could strike.

UNICEF is working with the Government to distribute messages to Haitians encouraging them to send their children back to school. Schools in unaffected regions opened on 1 February, while the Government of Haiti says the remaining will open by 1 March. Forty-percent of the population of Haiti is under 14 years of age and child protection is also an area of grave concern”.(1)

According to this report, the United Nations is on the verge of releasing a second Flash Appeal for Haiti that will include:

- Coordination, Needs Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation
- Outbreak control and disease surveillance
- Water supply and environmental health
- Basic health care services
- Treatment and rehabilitation of injured patients
- Essential drugs and medical supplies

Restoration of basic State capacities is crucial. Governance is critical and, according to the United Nations’ Development Program administrator Helen Clark, the United Nations is “equipped and committed to help the national and local governments take leadership of the recovery and reconstruction”.(2)

Medium to long-term recovery goals will require a restoration of basic services and provide social protection, with a special emphasis on the needs of women (especially pregnant women) children, the recently disabled and the elderly.

In order to accomplish this feat, Haiti must build and maintain institutional capacities that include public administration and local governance institutions; to reconstruct infrastructure, which includes more child-friendly schools and safe health facilities.

Other areas of long-term importance include fostering economic recovery and return to the path of development; to strengthen information sharing and coordination; and to integrate disaster prevention concerns and capacity into recovery and reconstruction.

Last but certainly by no means least is to enable the Haitian Government to set up a standard setting body to monitor all reconstruction efforts for compliance with earthquake resilience standards.

Isolationism policies and practices of the 20th century rendered archaic by the growth of information technology and the global perspective of the 21st century. It is not our citizenship under any given nation or affiliation with any particular group that moves or does not move us to provide aid. Our humanity, that fundamental universal, should drive us toward supporting human victims subject to this latest global disaster.

(1) "Special Report: Update on the Health Response to the Earthquake in Hait" February 9, 2010

(2) Clark, Helen. "United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat (UNISDR)" News Release. January, 28, 2010.

Image Courtesy of DayLife - Steps away from still-buried corpses, a young man uses a hammer to mark a corner of his new shack on the concrete slabs of the collapsed Marche Tete Boeuf market along the Grande Rue February 21, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Many Haitians have started building more permanent structures like shacks and sheds on top of the ruins left behind by last month's 7.0 earthquake. More than 200,000 people were killed in the quake and 1.2 million were left homeless. Feb. 21/10 - Getty Images

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