Haiti earthquake: ICRC expands relief effort

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One week after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, relief efforts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including those of the ICRC, are gathering pace. But the situation on the ground remains very difficult for thousands of survivors.

Daily life in Port-au-Prince

Simon Schorno, ICRC spokesman in Port-au-Prince, reports that life in the makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remains difficult: "Hygiene is a problem even if the people and in some cases the local authorities have started to organize to find water or to collect trash."

"Many people tell me they have run out of cash or are about to, that the price of vegetables and bread is skyrocketing and that they would not survive if they did not pool their resources with others," said Mr Schorno. "Many look for work, like the young men who line up at the gates of international organizations hoping to get day jobs. In the Place de Champs-de-Mars, coal vendors seem to be doing brisk business selling to families living in makeshift camps who use small tin barbecues to cook. Businessmen are offering to recharge mobile phones or are renting them out for a fee."

The ICRC continues to work closely with its Red Cross partners in Haiti, especially the Haitian National Red Cross Society. For more details on the overall Red Cross Red Crescent response to the earthquake, go to www.ifrc.org.

Health care outside Port-au-Prince

ICRC health teams have reached Petit-Goâve, a coastal town some 70 kilometres south-west of Port-au-Prince, where they set up two first-aid posts that are now being staffed by Haitian Red Cross volunteers, and delivered much-needed first-aid kits to treat up to 500 patients. "Unfortunately there is as much suffering in Petit-Goâve as there is in Port-au-Prince," said Hassan Nasreddine, the ICRC surgeon who led the health team. "So far, many patients could not be treated because the city's main hospital lacks everything." The ICRC will deliver medical supplies to the city in the coming days.

In Port-au-Prince, more medical supplies have been delivered to the Hôpital de la Paix and to the Haitian Red Cross first-aid post in the shantytown of Martissant.

Clean water for over 12,000 people

Hygiene and sanitation remain a major concern in Port-au-Prince with many people still lacking access to sufficient quantities of drinking water. The ICRC is now providing water for over 12,000 people living in three makeshift camps. "Tanker trucks bring water several times a day to reservoirs we have installed so that families in the camps can drink and wash throughout the day," explained Ikthiar Aslanov, an ICRC water and sanitation engineer. "After the horror and difficulties of recent days, it is a joy to see children drink clean water and wash themselves," said Ugo Mora, another ICRC engineer.

Office to re-establish family links up and running

The ICRC works closely with the Haitian Red Cross to help people in Haiti and abroad to renew contact with their loved ones. On Tuesday, they gave people in some of the worst-affected neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, including Croix-de-Prez and Canapé Vert, the opportunity to make international phone calls to family members living abroad, mainly in the United States. A total of 117 calls were made.

The ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross have also started running an office to help restore family links. "Our Port-au-Prince tracing post will help us follow up on the tracing requests posted on our family links website in recent days," said Pierre Barras, who runs the ICRC's tracing services. "We can now help residents who have lost everything they had to restore contact with their loved ones. The homeless staying in makeshift camps often don't have the means even to make a phone call, and many are still without news of loved ones a week after the earthquake." Radio stations have begun advertising the service, encouraging those without news of their relatives to contact the Haiti Red Cross or the ICRC.

So far, nearly 23,500 names have been registered on the ICRC family links website. More than 1,600 of these postings are from people eager to let their loved ones know that they are safe and alive. Over the past few days, some 360 names have been removed from the list after people being sought were located by their relatives.

Handling the dead with dignity

Two ICRC forensic experts have arrived in Port-au-Prince to advise the Haitian authorities on the proper collection of information on the dead and on the dignified handling of bodies. "We want to help dispel the myth that the dead spread disease, which is prevalent in Port-au-Prince and has led to mass cremations and pit burials," said Morris Tidball-Binz, who is overseeing the ICRC's forensics efforts in the city. The ICRC is also distributing body bags, body tags, gloves, masks and other essential items to local mortuaries.

Relief shipments

An ICRC-chartered aircraft carrying 36 tonnes of water and sanitation equipment as well as medical items left Geneva yesterday bound for the Dominican Republic. From there, the cargo will be taken by road to Port-au-Prince. A second plane carrying 2,500 family kits, containing such essential items as blankets, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter, is due to leave Panama for the Dominican Republic in the coming days.

For further information, please contact:

Simon Schorno, ICRC Port-au-Prince, mobile: +41 79 251 9302, satellite tel: +88 165 146 6175

Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 217 32 24