Haiti’s plea: “We need help”

January 20, 2010

-This is a guest post from Rigoberto Giron, who is heading up CARE’s emergency response efforts in Haiti from CARE HQ in Atlanta. Any opinions expressed are his own.-

Just outside of CARE’s offices in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, hundreds of newly homeless people are camped out in a public square. During the day, they wait patiently in the scorching sun. But at night, when hunger and thirst overtake them, groups of people can be heard clapping and chanting. Daybreak reveals new banners that read, in English and Creole, “We need help!”

No message could be truer.

Tens of thousands of people now live in the rubble-filled streets and cramped public spaces around Haiti’s capital city. Water mains are broken and people are washing clothes in the gutters. There also have been concerns about bottlenecks and food, shelter and clean water not reaching the people who so desperately need it.

The logistical challenges are daunting. The airport and sea port have been damaged, electricity has been cut off, and most roads are damaged. Gas supplies are low. There is an urgent need for aircraft fuel in order to continue humanitarian flights. And security issues hamper aid efforts.

Yet, amid the death and destruction, we have seen the Haitian people band together. The same people saying “we need help” are helping each other. Families who’ve lost everything are teaming up with emergency crews and aid workers to pull survivors from the rubble. CARE’s staff have been inspired by women who, after just one lesson in water purification, spread the lifesaving technique to others.

CARE doesn’t simply deliver millions of liters of clean water to those suffering in the aftermath of this country’s worst disaster. Those coached on how to use water-purification packets have turned into coaches themselves.

And that has freed up CARE’s staff, many of whom are suffering through their own family tragedies, to deliver emergency meals, collapsible water containers and hygiene kits. Some of those preparing to deliver upcoming shipments of mattresses, tents and other items have lost their own homes, family members and dear friends.

The airport is beginning to run smoothly again and logistical operations have been set up in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Security measures are being put in place to assure that aid isn’t just distributed, but it’s distributed safely and effectively. The aid pipeline is filling up and we expect to see many more items distributed in the next few days.

CARE’s roots in Haiti grew out of tragedy, arriving in 1954 to help with the recovery from Hurricane Hazel, which killed nearly 1,000 people. We’ve seen the Haitian people bounce back before.

Of course, the magnitude of the challenge is greater this time. Haiti’s human loss is already unspeakable, upward of 100,000 people.

I wish recovery were as easy as pouring that water-purification powder into a bucket, and watching the darkness give way to something sparkling clear. But it’s not. Healing and rebuilding Haiti will take hard work and cooperation, long after the dust settles and the TV cameras are gone.

The truth is the people of Haiti need more than help. Making Haiti stronger requires a long-term commitment, from all of us.

Rigoberto Giron is heading up CARE’s relief efforts in Haiti. CARE has been working in Haiti since 1954, where its programs focus on governance, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, maternal and child health, education, food security, and water and sanitation. Learn more about CARE’s work at http://www.care.org.

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