Saturday, June 12, 2010

February 20, 2010 - Haiti Action Summary

Haiti update February 20, 2010
A bitter sweet day in 3 parts
...written and distributed by PDG Dick McCombe

(1) Warehousing and supplies

We had a very exciting and productive day yesterday in Port au Prince. Although it was painfully real, it alsosgave me a better sense of our direction going forward and a comfort that we were in Sync with the Rotarians in Haiti and the Government of Haiti.

I had arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister of Haiti to discuss numerous issues but mainly to understand if Rotary, and specifically our District 7020, was approaching our relief and recovery initiatives with the right priorities in the mind of the Haitien Government. I asked PRID Barry to go with me for wisdom and support, and The Haitien Ambassador to the Bahamas, as he has been very helpful and supportive to us.

Once again, Odyssey, and Saga Boy Holdings provided the Caravan and their team of Captians, Paul Aranah and Paul Pyfrom took command of getting us to Port au Prince and back. We were wheels up at 5:00 a.m. and landed back in Nassau shortly before 7:00 p.m., with on-the-ground time of approximately 6 hours.

As usual, the Haiti on-the-ground team was extraordinary. Claude and his team met us at the airport and took us across the road to their warehousing centre. That in itself was an instant education! They are working from a yard and a couple of 40’ containers as their distribution point.

The reason the distribution had been stopped a couple of days back was because the perimeter wall had fallen down, and all the people from the shelter camps that surround the area could not be controlled. The wall has since been rebuilt and they were distributing supplies when we arrived.

The two containers of supplies from St. Maarten have arrived, and been distributed along with on additional one from the US. There are two there right now from the DR District 4060 which have been mostly emptied.

They message is clear. We need to get them some containers. We have a vessel planned leaving Nassau the second week in March. It can carry 60 20’-containers. We had planned to buy 20 or so containers and send them down full and to leave them. The balance of supplies we would palletize into containers and unload when we arrived in Haiti.

That will not do. I believe our objective now must be to buy all the containers on
the ship and leave them all there. Containers are available in the United States from Omega Container Services for $1,375 for a 20’, and a couple of hundred more for a 40’. Please see if your club, or corporate sponsor or someone, can help with the funding for these additional containers.

(2) The painful reality of the tour

After the distribution site, we toured Port au Prince and Petion-Ville. I can only tell you that I felt my expectation of what I would see was based on my experience in Haiti and a very informed understanding of what the infrastructure was pre-earthquake and how desperate the situation was pre-earthquake.

I must tell you that I was shocked beyond words at the destruction and magnitude of the disaster. While I expected tosee thousands of crumbled buildings and the devastation, I had no idea it could be so bad.

As we drove block after block, we saw either all, or every couple of buildings, imploded. It pained me to know that in most of them there could have been anywhere from 1 to 50 or 60 dead people still in the rubble never to be found, claimed or even buried.

Besides the imploded buildings, fallen walls, cracked and broken structures, the entire infrastructure was also lying on the ground pushed to the side. Things like powerlines, phone lines, and water lines. This was amplified by the sewage and water running down the streets carrying the garbage and loose possessions.

Anywhere that there was a clear spot, tent cities had popped up. There were 100’s of them made up of 10’s of thousands of tents and home-made shelters, randomly placed and very tightly packed together. Tents of all descriptions made up the camps. Many UN or international agency tents that were identifiable by the orderly fashion they were placed, but it was clear they were soon crowded out by tents made from everything one could imagine around them.

Some tents were framed from reused rebar from a crumbled building and wrapped in cardboard and remnants of clothes found after the earthquake. Others were framed from sticks and covered with pieces of material rescued from the streets after the earthquake. Interestingly enough, on our tour we saw very few shelterboxes.

I saw a couple of them on the side of a street where they acted as the safe home for a displaced family from a home that still stood but was cracked and the residents were afraid to move back into it. I guess the lack of sightings could be because of the lack of on-the-ground Rotary involvement, and maybe they were in locations unknown to the local Rotary clubs. Too bad!!

As a quick perspective, I was told the following.

-- 15% of the country is now homeless
-- additionally 10% are displaced

I was also told that they have estimated that, if they were to take 1000 loads of rubble per day from the streets, it would take a full 2 years to remove all the destruction. I saw it and believe it, but cannot comprehend what that means to those trying to chart the way forward for this desperate country!

We passed by the water commission where they were training some staff on the needs for the latrines, and the message they needed to share with the Tent City residents pertaining to drinking water, sanitation and latrine use.

If you can imagine, the latrines should ideally be distributed to a ratio of 1 per 50 shelter residents. They are currently about 1 per 2000+. I will leave your imagination to figure out the rest.

The water commission is responsible for the delivery of clean drinking water to the camps. It is also charged with the delivery and maintenance of the latrines for those camps. They are really, like everybody else in Haiti, being pushed to the
limit, but they are doing an amazing job. They have an additional 4000 latrines coming but need another 10,000. Something to think about.

The water commission is also distributing the Water Survival Boxes from Rotary in the UK. They are the most qualified and informed team in Haiti to deliver these, and are doing so on behalf of our Haiti Rotary Team. They know where the camps are, and what the needs are in each camp, so we feel they are the best distribution system we can use.

(3) Meeting with the Prime Minister

The meeting with the Prime Minister went very well. There were a number of issues we needed to discuss with him, and we also needed to hear from him - what he saw as priorities, and issues as they pertained to the future of Haiti. Both these objectives were met.

I will not cover all the points, but summarize the most important ones.

-- We wanted to better understand the planning process for the medium- and long- term recovery efforts for the Country and the priorities that the Government of Haiti saw.

-- There has been a Post-Disaster National Assessment Committee (PDNA) put together to formalize a plan scheduled for local review in mid-March and for presentation to the United Nations at the end of March.

-- As of our meeting, the Prime Minister agreed to give Rotary a seat on that Committee and we will be involved in the development and production of the plan
as a result.

-- Barry Rassin will assist us with Rotary International's presence at the UN presentation to be sure we stay connected with the process at that level as well.

This is probably the single most important advancement we have made in identifying our role as we move forward. We are going to be a part of the planning process from the beginning, and as such, will be knowledgeable of all the elements and understand the full scope of the recovery initiative. This, coupled with the Rotary Clubs in Haiti being in the communities, will give us a very clear understanding of our role in whatever sustainable initiative we decide to undertake.

-- We discussed the issue of Customs, and the challenges we have faced, and possibly may face, as we continue our medium-term relief efforts.

-- We are assured that we can get a letter that would make clear our customs
privilege, and any other issue that may develop at any port of entry we chose to use. This was a great and necessary assurance.

-- We discussed the status of our NGO (ROTAH) Regroupement Oeuvrant a Travers des Actions Humanitaires en Haiti. We have been given assurance that this would be approved very expeditiously and we would have temporary approval by next week.

-- We discussed the issue of trying to get supplies to La Gonaives and the challenges therein. I had recommended that we have approval to ship directly by sea to La Gonaives. The Prime Minister said he would look into the possibility of that as a regular port of entry, but assured us that we could, under special request, do so. This will help the Island Community a lot.

-- We also discussed the overall response to the Disaster and the future of Haiti. There are many VERY difficult decisions to be made and actions to be taken.

-- At the forefront of all of them is the understanding by all involved that this may well be the only time that an effective calculated plan for a sustainable recovery may be possible, and we must do it right.

The pressure to do it soon is also critical as the patience of the population is already being tested. They need to see and hear the plan and then immediately initiatives that indicate that it is a reality and not rhetoric.

-- We discussed the need for a quick switch in our recovery efforts from relief to sustainable initiatives.

Don’t continue to send drinking water when the local water production plant can produce the water. Support the local production plant by buying water from them to distribute.

Don’t send rice that can be produced in the Artibonite region. Help them get back into full production, and then help by buying some of it for the needy.

-- In the very short term, food, shelter for individuals and for schools, School, scholarships, water and specific medical supplies are still the priority, but this should only be for the short period unless there is a very specific need identified.

I hope this update helps. On these trips, Captain Paul has taken photographs for us. He is downloading the latest one for me on a drive today, and Barry will take this and put a Photo presentation together for us all.

I am going back to Port au Prince Tuesday. Rotary International President John Kenny will be there and is wanting to discuss the relief efforts to date in Haiti and to meet with a number of NGOs. He is coming in from the DR as he is actually visiting that District. I think it's important he is informed of our efforts and understands the direction we are taking.

A quick Thank You to Captain Paul Aranah for supporting us through all this and arranging flights and sponsorships.

Thanks to again Barry for his unwavering support for anything this district does and for being there when we need him EVERY time.

Thanks to Claude for his exceptional Leadership and support during what must be the most challenging period of his life.

Thanks to all our Rotarians in Haiti who make our efforts so rewarding, and thanks to all of you for your continued interest and support.

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