Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life and Hope Help Haiti Stand

UMCOR executive Melissa Crutchfield passes purified water to Haiti survivors.
UMCOR photo by Mike Dubose, UMNS

Our team of six (three from UMCOR and Global Ministries, and three United Methodist communicators) arrived in Port-au-Prince on Thursday evening, heading straight to the Auberge du Quebec hotel in Carrefour, located in a suburb just west of Port-au-Prince, where dozens of aid workers and reporters are staying. We stayed there one night, then moved closer into town at the Methodist guest house, which remained intact despite the buildings around it that crumbled.

The scene here is quite unimaginable and cannot be put into words. I know everyone has seen the footage and heard the stories, so I'll refrain from repeating the obvious, except to say I see no other way that this country will recover but for practically razing the entire city of Port-au-Prince and many surrounding areas and simply starting over. The destruction is immense. Of the structures left standing, many are precarious. There will be scant few that won't need some kind of repair, reinforcement or replacement. It will take years.

The humanitarian emergency is dire in terms of access to clean water, food, and shelter, but slowly and surely aid is getting out and increasing. The vast majority of the international community (UN, USAID, etc.) are still focused on the city of Port-au-Prince, and it is definitely needed here, but the traffic congestion and closed roads due to debris create additional challenges to simply getting around.

More than 700,000 people are displaced from their homes, either because their homes collapsed, or because they are afraid to sleep inside. Almost no one sleeps indoors right now. Spontaneous informal settlements have cropped up in the public parks, church yards, school yards, along the streets, parking lots, soccer fields, or anywhere with open space. The situation outside Port-au-Prince is the same in terms of the destruction, but slightly less congested. For now, we are focusing our relief efforts in these areas which are receiving less attention and aid.

Aftershocks are pretty common at this point. We felt three aftershocks on Friday and have heard there is a solid chance of more of them occurring. They were pretty unsettling, although the biggest one was only a 4.4 magnitude, and I can see why the folks who experienced the actual earthquake are jumpy about sleeping indoors. (But don't worry, mom, we're staying safe, have a quick exit strategy everywhere we go, and have tents to sleep in as a back-up plan!)

On Friday we visited several sites about 40 miles outside of Port-au-Prince with the l'Eglise Méthodiste d'Haiti and Petit Goâve and Mellier, where we saw churches, schools and countless homes completely destroyed. The road on the way there was fraught with rock slides and fissures. The scope of the destruction is staggering.

On Saturday we spent the day with our partner GlobalMedic, delivering clean water to several spontaneous settlements in Léogâne and Gressier.

Our team attended several cluster meetings on Sunday morning with the UN and international aid community, which was interesting but still reinforced the fact that (a) everyone is struggling with logistics and coordination at this stage and (b) the outlying regions are still underserved. UMCOR is actually doing a pretty good job getting into action at this stage.

Tomorrow we head back to Mellier, accompanied by l'Eglise Méthodiste d'Haiti, to do a needs assessment, and plan a distribution of relief supplies for later in the week.

In terms of security issues, the stories you see on the news are pretty sensationalized and there isn't much concern just getting around the city. Civil society has begun to resume and people are out in the streets selling fruit, water and an impressive variety of other goods. It seems that a lot of things are still available for purchase, but the prices have gone up. The banks have also been down, causing a breakdown in the ability of people to access goods. But the banks and money transfer places (like Western Union) opened on Friday, allowing people to access money. So things should improve somewhat on that front.

There has been a curfew imposed at night for international aid workers, so we are usually back to the guest house by 6:00 p.m. When we do the distribution later this week we will be prudent and plan ahead to avoid any mob scenes. We will have access to security from the local UN if needed. But generally, folks respect things done with and through the church, so we have that on our side.

The resilience of the Haitian people is impressive and humbling. Life really is going on, despite the huge loss that EVERYONE has felt, and the difficulties that seem to mount for them each day. The recovery will be long and slow, but most are also seeing an opportunity to strengthen Haiti in the process. I feel humbled, anxious, honored, and excited to have the opportunity and responsibility of coordinating UMCOR's work on the ground at this stage. I honestly think we'll do some good and make a positive impact, despite all of the hurdles we already have and inevitably will encounter.

Keep checking the UMCOR website for updates. The UMC website is posting additional stories and pictures from the communications team with us here.

By Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response, UMCOR

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this firsthand account with us, and for everything you are doing there. Our prayers are following you.