American Red Cross volunteer Winnie Romeril returned from Haiti this weekend after spending two weeks supporting relief efforts following the January 12 earthquake that devastated the country.
On Monday, Romeril briefed Red Cross national headquarters staff on the conditions of the ongoing operation, sharing photos and her own personal impressions. She detailed the immediate response of American Red Cross workers as they established a first aid station in front of the crumbled Red Cross building minutes after the tremors ceased. She also elaborated on the concerted effort of the global Red Cross network of teams collaborating to provide relief to those affected within Port-au-Prince and in outlying areas around the Haitian capital.
David Meltzer, Red Cross senior vice president of International Services, provided an overview of the current situation, acknowledging that conditions remain challenging despite significant improvements.
Haitian people living without shelter, now estimated to be up to 1 million, will become more vulnerable this April as the rainy season begins. The arrival of hurricane season in June only reinforces this urgency.
Tracy Reines, director of the American Red Cross International Response Operations Center, detailed a “three-pronged approach” for Red Cross support to meet immediate shelter needs: providing support to host families outside of Port-au-Prince who can shelter friends and family members; distributing tents as part of a short-term solution; and distributing shelter kits containing such materials as reinforced tarps, lumber and tools to help people construct shelter out of available salvaged materials.
Romeril continued by describing the use of Red Cross mobile clinics to provide medical care to those impacted, the organization of relief distribution and the establishment of sanitation systems as water purification teams travel through the countryside to ensure well water safety.
In response to a question about the psychological impact of the disaster, Romeril highlighted the incredible resiliency she witnessed in the Haitian people. Since everyone has been affected by the earthquake and its aftermath, she said, this has created a powerful sense of unity. She noted that this resiliency is particularly prevalent among the children, who continue to laugh and play despite the widespread devastation.
A Long and Challenging Road Ahead Although the relief operation makes significant gains each day, Haiti’s recovery from this disaster will present many challenges in the months to come.
Both Reines and Meltzer noted that coordination remains critical to success in the immediate relief operation as well as in Haiti’s long-term recovery. This necessitates continued collaboration with other Red Cross partners, international relief agencies, the Haitian government and the Haitian people. The importance of close coordination is exemplified in the successes of the relief and recovery efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
What will become a multi-year recovery program will require the early involvement of the community and a strong decision-making presence from the Haitian government. Although it is too early to determine the length of the ongoing efforts, the American Red Cross will continue to partner with other organizations to most effectively contribute to Haiti’s recovery.
You can help the victims of countless crises, like the recent earthquake in Haiti, around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.