Haiti: ICRC relief effort gathers pace

News and Press Release
Originally published
As ICRC staff already on the ground in Haiti distribute medical items to hospitals, an ICRC-chartered aircraft carrying specialized staff has departed for Port-au-Prince. A second ICRC plane carrying 40 tonnes of relief supplies is expected to be on its way within hours.

General situation

The population in Port-au-Prince and other earthquake-affected areas has spent a second night in the open. Frantic search and rescue activities have been continuing as international relief operations grind into action. Efforts to assess the extent of this huge disaster are ongoing. While no accurate figures are yet available, the number of dead and injured is expected to be in the thousands, and as many as three million people appear to have been affected in one way or another.

Little is known about the humanitarian situation in earthquake-affected areas outside the capital.

ICRC activities

The ICRC is working closely with its Red Cross partners, especially the Haitian National Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is coordinating international Red Cross and Red Crescent relief efforts. Haitian Red Cross staff and volunteers are involved in the ongoing search and rescue efforts despite the fact that many of their co-workers remain unaccounted for.

An ICRC-chartered aircraft carrying 11 expert staff left Geneva for Port-au-Prince this morning. Those on board include engineers, a surgeon and specialists in reuniting families separated by disaster as well as economic-security, logistics and IT specialists.

A second ICRC plane carrying 40 tonnes of supplies - mainly medical items - is expected to leave Geneva this afternoon. The cargo will include specialized kits to help treat the wounded and a kit sufficient to cover the basic health needs of 10,000 people over a period of three months. Furthermore, the plane will carry 3,000 body bags and materials such as one tonne of chlorine that can be used for water treatment. It is due to arrive in or near Port-au-Prince on Friday.

Yesterday, ICRC staff based in Port-au-Prince were able to visit several public hospitals that are still functioning, and started to provide them and Haitian Red Cross headquarters with emergency medical supplies stockpiled before the disaster struck. The supplies included medicines and other medical items needed to treat about 200 hospitalized surgical patients and basic drugs for 1,000 patients with general health problems.

"There have been a number of aftershocks and people remain anxious," said Riccardo Conti, the ICRC's head of delegation in Haiti. "All the houses around us have been vacated and people are literally living out in the open."

The ICRC delegation in Port-au-Prince has also been focusing on repairing its own essential infrastructure such as telecommunications facilities and on consulting other humanitarian organizations to gain a clearer idea of the situation. The delegation is getting ready to provide support for Red Cross specialized units arriving from several countries.

Mortal remains

The ICRC aims to support all efforts to ensure that the bodies of the dead can be recovered and identified for the benefit of their families. It is putting its forensic expertise at the disposal of the various organizations on the ground handling this sensitive task.

As ICRC forensic expert, Ute Hofmeister explains: "There is a widespread myth that dead bodies may be the cause of epidemics in natural disasters. This is not the case. The bodies of people that have died in a natural disaster do not spread disease, since they have died of trauma and not disease. Hasty and uncoordinated disposal of the bodies, for example in mass graves or by cremation, should be avoided at all cost, as that would make it impossible to identify the bodies later and to inform the families. If there is a lack of storage space, the temporary burial of bodies may be an option."

Family links

The ICRC has set up a special website to help thousands of people within Haiti and abroad who have lost contact with their loved ones. The address is www.icrc.org/familylinks

For further information, please contact:

Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17

Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 32 24