By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Although getting basic supplies such as food and water to the hundreds of thousands left homeless by Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake has been a Herculean task, aid workers were finding ways around traffic blockades, crowds of people and the country’s lack of infrastructure.
Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, which is coordinating the church’s relief and recovery efforts in Haiti, was able to get a jump-start on distributing aid because it already had warehouses filled with supplies in Haiti set up after the 2008 hurricanes in the region.
After it distributed plastic sheeting, water storage containers, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits from the Port-au-Prince warehouse Jan 14, the agency began distributing supplies from one of its other warehouses in Les Cayes, about 90 miles from Port-au-Prince.
CRS volunteers and staff in the Dominican Republic were purchasing and assembling boxes of food, including sardines and peanut butter, to deliver to Port-au-Prince. The ultimate goal was to have enough boxes of prepared food to feed 50,000.
Bill Canny, CRS’ director of emergency operations, spoke to Catholic News Service while traveling from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. He said some of the relief efforts were still a work in progress, for instance, distribution of food from the U.S. government that arrived in Port-au-Prince via ship Jan. 15.
“We’re waiting to see how that develops,” he said.
The agency was sending additional supplies from the Dominican Republic: water storage containers and water purification tablets for 2,000 families; and plastic sheeting, water storage containers, mosquito nets and hygiene kits to serve an additional 500 families.
“We’re moving additional emergency staff in as quickly as possible,” Canny said. “We know it’s chaos in Port-au-Prince and help is needed immediately.”
Donal Reilly, CRS’ regional technical adviser for emergencies, said that the food shipment would begin to fulfill the most pressing needs of Haitians, whose recovery is hampered by their poverty.
Amid the work of distributing basic supplies, CRS also has experts on the ground to determine how to respond to water and sanitation conditions, shelter and medical needs.
Karel Zelenka, CRS’ country representative in Haiti, said in a report on the CRS Web site that staff arriving in Haiti will join the CRS staff sleeping outside, in tents or cars, as aftershocks continue in Port-au-Prince. CRS’ Haiti headquarters building was damaged but did not collapse.
“Our main office building shows many cracks and people just sort of run in, pick up things that they need, and we do everything outside,” Zelenka said. “We have a table set up outside, we pulled out electric cables, we bring computers there and so cannot ask our staff to go in until we have some assurance it is structurally sound.”
CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, pledged an initial $5 million for earthquake relief. The agency has been working in Haiti for 55 years.
On Jan. 15, U.S. military helicopters were ferrying water and other humanitarian relief supplies from an American aircraft carrier to crowds in Port-au-Prince. Volunteers and government workers were occupied with the task of burying the country’s dead, which the Red Cross estimated at 45,000-50,000.
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