One Week After Haiti's Earthquake, New Challenges in Helping
With 70,000 bodies officially recovered after last Tuesday's earthquake, World Vision says the total death toll likely will be well over 100,000. Meanwhile, aid and relief organizations have raised more than $220 million to help. World Vision, one of the world's largest Christian ministries, has raised $31 million to provide food, medical aid, and shelter. Christianity Today online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey spoke by phone with World Vision media relations manager Laura Blank, who is in Port-au-Prince.
What is it like there?
Many of the people we're going to in these distributions in the last 32-48 hours have said they have no food or water or very little since the earthquake, and we're almost a week out. As you drive around the city you see total devastation.
That's been very hard on our staff, because they are not immune from the disaster. The disaster affected the rich and the poor, uptown, downtown, and many of them have lost their homes or suffered injuries or family members are lost or injured in the quake.
We not only do emergency relief, we also do development, so we've already been here in Port-au-Prince. Throughout Haiti, we have several hundred staff members. We already have the infrastructure in place, we know the local community and government, and our staff speaks the language.
We had some medical supplies pre-positioned before the hurricane season, so we started providing hospitals with supplies and then we began providing clothing, hygiene kits, blankets, water containers, tents, food, and water.
It sounds like you were somewhat prepared.
We had a small amount of supplies: enough to help about 1,500 people. But obviously the scale of this disaster is massive. Three million people out of a city of four million have been affected by the earthquake. We got our first relief flight in on Friday night, and we've gotten several more in over the past couple of days.
But there are some challenges here, just in operating—the fuel shortage is becoming a really big problem. Yesterday, we heard that the United Nations was estimating that there is just two or three days of fuel left, so they were working with the government to try to increase that. But everywhere you go in the city you see fuel lines, people waiting for hours to try to get a little bit of gasoline for their vehicle. The same goes for us. If we don't have fuel in our vehicles, we can't get from the warehouse to the distribution site. We actually had to ask our staff in the Dominican Republic to bring in some fuel, but that's obviously a short-term solution.
The other concern is communication. A phone conversation is challenging. The cell-phone service here is still down, text messages rarely go through, cell phone calls don't work at all, and landlines are virtually down. We have one, maybe two phones here at the office that are working. So it's been a challenge to coordinate with our team and then get the relief and supplies out quickly.
How many people do you have there?
World Vision has a staff of about 800 around Haiti. Within Port-au-Prince, we probably have a staff of about 100. We've had staff come in from the United States, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Latin America, and the Dominican Republic. In addition to our local staff, we have probably 75 to 100 people here now.
A similar thing happened when we were in the Myanmar cyclone; we were one of just three organizations that had been on the ground long-term, that had been building relationships with local community leaders and national government staff. So that serves us well when you're in a chaotic situation like this. The disaster people are suffering and you need to respond quickly. We don't have to fly in on the ground and then figure out who speaks the language or what the infrastructure is.