Haiti update

Ten days after the earthquake that struck Haiti, here is a roundup of news from Haiti or about the response.

Here is a Wall Street Journal video describing both life amid the ruins and the response of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.

Episcpoal Life Online reports that Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin and other members of the diocese briefed two Episcopal Relief & Development officials Jan. 22 about the diocese’s relief and recovery priorities.

The Haitian diocese suffered greatly with the quake. A number of the diocese’s other 254 schools, ranging from preschools to a university and a seminary, were destroyed or heavily damaged, including the Holy Trinity complex of primary, music and trade schools adjacent to the demolished diocesan Cathédrale Sainte Trinité (Holy Trinity Cathedral) in Port-au-Prince.

The Guardian and the BBC report on an editorial in the medical journal The Lancet, which decries the behavior of some relief agencies in their fund-raising efforts. Without naming names, the editorial accuses some agencies of “jostling for position” and “putting their own interests above those of the victims in the Haiti earthquake.” The Guardian writes:

In a caustic editorial today, the respected medical journal, the Lancet, attacked the way charities and other non-governmental organisations have clamoured for attention in the wake of the disaster.

“NGOs are rightly mobilising, but also jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the most for earthquake survivors,” it said.

The Lancet did not name any aid agencies, many of which lost staff members in the disaster, but it questioned the way several have claimed to be “spearheading” relief efforts.

“As we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but co-ordinated,” it said.

The editorial argued that the response to the earthquake has highlighted questions about the competitive ethos of large aid agencies. The issue has emerged in past emergencies, including the Asian tsunami in 2004.

“Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in itself is too often an aim of their activities,” it said.

Popular Mechanics had an interesting article about an important but often overlooked aspect of disaster response: how to handle the dead.

Few scenes are as haunting as those seen in Haiti this week, with thousands of corpses blocking the streets and others being carted by bulldozers en masse and dumped into huge graves. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) now estimates that at least 200,000 people died in the earthquake that devastated the country on January 12, and the buildup of dead bodies seems practically endless. If there is some good news to be shared, it is that these bodies pose little health risk to Haiti’s surviving residents and to the health workers who are taking care of them.

That dead bodies might be dangerous is a “myth that has been perpetuated time and time again,” says Steven Rottman, director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters. After almost every major natural disaster in history, survivors and the media have voiced concern that corpses could transmit infectious diseases. But if the disasters have struck populations that have, for the most part, been vaccinated against major communicable diseases like measles, “the risk of dead bodies following natural disasters being a source for spreading infectious diseases is very, very small,” Rottman says.

That’s because people who die in natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes are typically healthy. “They may have other medical conditions, but they’re not living with highly communicable diseases,” he says. “They die from injuries….”

…It’s also difficult to know how best to handle corpses when there are just so many of them. Sometimes, says Linda Degutis, director of the Yale University Center for Public Health Preparedness, burying them in mass graves really is the most humane way. “It’s probably far more disturbing to have a lot of dead bodies laying around that aren’t being moved and buried,” she says. And if workers wait too long in the hopes that family members come forward to identify the bodies, they will start to decompose; in warm climates such as Haiti’s, it can take as few as 12 hours for bodies to decompose so much that it’s impossible to recognize the faces.

The Rev. Lauren Stanley’s blog is a wealth of current information and stories of what is going on in Haiti and the response of people in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere. In a sidebar of her blog she gives this sound advice:

If you want to go…please wait.

I believe the best course of action right now is to pray, to be generous in your financial assistance, and to begin praying about how you can respond in the future. If you are considering — or had already scheduled — a mission trip, please pray about who should go to help with the first stages of rebuilding: Those who are healthy, who have specific skills such as carpentry, construction, plumbing, electrical work. Consider learning more Haitian Creole — 10 lessons are available for free at www.byki.com, and more lessons can be purchased.

The Diocese of Haiti will need your help for many years. This crisis is a marathon, not a short sprint, so we must be prepared to be in this for the long haul.

Towards that end, the past and present Archbishops of South Africa came together with other church, government, business and civil society leaders across Africa in a fundraising campaign that will mobilize support for the people of Haiti following the January 12 earthquake and a series of aftershocks that have caused widespread devastation and suffering to the country and its people focusing on the long term reconstruction and development of that nation. Episcopal Life Online reports:

The “Africa for Haiti Campaign,” set up to help in coordinating relief efforts for Haiti, is being supported by Anglican Church of Southern Africa archbishops emeritus Desmond Tutu, Njongonkulu Ndungane, and incumbent archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

Graça Machel, human rights activist and wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, and African businessmen Trevor Ncube and Reuel Khoza have played a crucial role in the campaign.

In South Africa, the campaign is being sponsored by several charities and relief organizations, including CIVICUS and its partners, African Monitor, Trust Africa, the Southern Africa Trust, Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Southern Africa and the South African Red Cross Society.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted a press conference Jan. 22 and a subsequent press release noted that the campaign “will identify, in partnership with Haitian civil society organizations, initiatives in which it can assist. It also hopes to provide Africans from all walks of life an opportunity to demonstrate their collective solidarity and support for the people of Haiti thereby uniting Africans in compassion and giving.”

During the press conference, Machel noted that the campaign’s objective is not to provide immediate relief “but rather to contribute toward the medium- to long-term reconstruction of communities in Haiti. As a result, it is estimated that fundraising for this campaign may continue for six months.”

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