Conditions on the ground in Haiti require aid teams to be entirely self-sufficient
Washington, D.C., January 15, 2009 (PAHO) - Welcoming a "phenomenal" outpouring of aid for Haiti from countries in the Americas and throughout the world, a top Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) official said today that coordinating aid efforts was essential to ensure efficiency and to prevent added stress on local infrastructure, services, and even the population itself.
"Countries in our region recognize that this must be a regional response," said Dr. Jon Andrus, PAHO's Deputy Director. "Haiti is everyone's neighbor. No one country alone can conduct the response; we must all do our parts. And, indeed, the response from countries has been phenomenal."
At least 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have confirmed to PAHO/WHO that they are deploying medical teams to Haiti, and at least six countries have sent search-and-rescue teams. Canada and the United States have provided "extraordinary" support, said Andrus, as have countries in Europe and as far away as China.
Many Latin American and Caribbean countries are providing funds and supplies as well as personnel, while others are awaiting needs assessments from PAHO/WHO to decide what support to send.
A team of PAHO health and logistics experts has arrived in Haiti to supplement the staff at the PAHO office in Port-au-Prince, which was damaged in the earthquake and has been moved to the Promess warehouse, where Haiti's medical supplies and vaccines are stored. PAHO is working with its office in the Dominican Republic to set up a field office on the border to help coordinate aid and logistics.
Andrus noted that conditions on the ground require any arriving aid teams to be entirely self-sufficient in food, water, equipment, supplies, and shelter. He said airplanes landing at the airport must be capable of unloading their own passengers and equipment, including having ladders for medical teams to disembark.
"If aid personnel arrive needing support in terms of transportation, lodging, food, and water, this just puts additional stress on services that are already constrained and needed by the Haitian population," said Andrus.
Communication remains a major challenge and has been difficult even between PAHO's Washington headquarters and its country office in Haiti, one of 28 PAHO/WHO country offices throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The communication problems are "making the collection of real-time data incredibly challenging," said Andrus. "We still do not know or have clear estimates of the numbers of dead or injured. A variety of sources are estimating the number of deaths to be between 50,000 and 100,000 people." He added, "We really do not know the number."
"Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere," said Andrus. "External support that is well-managed and well-coordinated is absolutely essential in these early phases."
PAHO's Director, Dr. Mirta Roses, held a conference today with directors of other U.N. Agencies working in Haiti to coordinate aid efforts, and Deputy Director Andrus briefed U.S. aid officials on PAHO's response.
Other updates on the situation in Haiti include:
* The airport is open only to humanitarian flights. Due to congestion, some planes are being turned back or diverted.
* U.N. personnel are collecting bodies that are being placed in the streets and taking them to a central location for later identification and burial.
* Roads from the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince appear to be open.
* The Dominican Republic and Jamaica are caring for injured patients who have been evacuated from Haiti.
* Haiti's banking system is not functioning, and shops are closed due to fears of looting.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).