Haiti: End of mission - 30 organizations and 1 700 families benefit

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After having responded for more than one month to the cyclones in Haiti, TSF's mission is now over. In September, Haiti was hit consecutively by 4 hurricanes: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. The main affected area is Gonaïves, a northern city of 300,000 inhabitants already affected in 2004 where at least 250,000 people needed immediate assistance. Les Gonaïves soon became the main humanitarian hub for aid agencies (both UN and NGOs) with overall coordination in the capital Port au Prince.

On September 5th, TSF deployed an Emergency Communication Centre for the humanitarian community at the MINUSTAH compound (The United Nations stabilization Mission in Haiti). In total, an average of 50 aid workers from more than 30 aid organizations benefited daily from TSF's satellite-based Broadband Internet connection and IT support. More than 7 500 MB of data (situation reports, needs assessments, medicine lists...) were exchanged between relief workers in Gonaïves and the outside world.

On September 16th (security and water level in the city unfortunately did not allow TSF to start sooner), TSF started its humanitarian calling operations to enable those who had lost everything to give news and call for help. In total almost 1700 families were able to contact a loved-one mainly abroad. Each family was given a free 3-minute call to anywhere in the world. Over 80% of calls were international and 90% of international calls were to the US. People also called the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, France, or Canada. In order to offer this service to a maximum number of beneficiaries, TSF focused on the biggest shelters and also set up in places where people stayed during the day (main squares, markets, medical centres...).

Normally, a 3-minute call abroad from Haiti would cost around 135 Gourdes. To put that in context, a cup of rice (people don't count in kilos or in pounds but in "cups") costs 35 gourdes. For a population devastated by the food crisis and then these storms, access to TSF's phone lines not only meant moments of comfort connecting with loved ones, but possibly also a lifeline to friends or family who could send money, notably through Western Union.

A cyber café is now reopened, the mobile network also offers Internet connectivity through GPRS, some aid agencies have been able to bring their own communications equipment and WFP also installed a backup solution both available at the MINUSTAH compound and at the Port (an important logistics base). Even though there is still no electricity in Gonaives, those affected are able to charge their mobile phones using generators and other sources of energy such as car batteries.

Despite the situation in telecommunications has improved, the overall living conditions for the population of Gonaives are still extremely difficult and people will continue to depend on international assistance for several months. According to MSF some 10,000 people are living on roofs, in tents or in fragile shacks made of wood debris and bed sheets. The UN has calculated 2.5 million cubic meters of mud have been deposited in the city alone. This would take removing about 400 truckloads of mud a day, every day for a year to clear Gonaives.

Hurricane season ends in late November. If another one were to strike the region with more heavy rains, inhabitants of Gonaives would once again pay a heavy price.