Haiti: Saving lives and caring for the wounded

By Maude Froberg, IFRC, in Port-au-Prince

Once again the population of quake-stricken Port-au-Prince woke to yet another aftershock in the early hours of Sunday morning. Screams of fear and the howling of dogs filled the darkened city, where electricity is still scarce and people have gathered in makeshift shelters in parks and open areas following the massive earthquake on 12 January.

Yet as the voices of fear slowly receded, they were replaced by another sound - that of cargo planes landing at the international airport.

Four planes packed with relief supplies are now landing every hour. Every minute there is a decision taken on how to move further the complex relief operation, which still after five days sees survivors pulled out of the rubbles.

Emergency ward

Caring for the wounded is still a priority. The green area in front of the partly damaged University Hospital is being used as an emergency ward. Beds with patients are taking up every possible space, even lining the streets surrounding the facilities.

And as mothers tend to their injured children and relatives support one other, doctors from the Canadian Red Cross and Haitian National Red Cross Society make their way through the open ward, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). In this area, a Norwegian Red Cross field hospital is being set up; boxes with life-saving equipment being unloaded as night fell.

"I cannot thank you enough from coming from far away to help our country. This is a disaster that will stay with us for years, and so will the memory of those we have lost," says Dr Michaele Gedeon, President of the Haitian National Red Cross Society and the former Minster of Public Health, as she hurries into the ward to get an update of the situation and the medical needs.

Severely affected

Wherever she goes, she is cheered by the staff and, despite the overwhelming responsibility, takes her time to carefully assess the needs of the wounded in order to best coordinate the relief efforts on behalf of the Haitian Red Cross, which has also been severely affected by the disaster.

"We might be able to rebuild these premises," she says in a low voice. "Far worse are all the volunteers and first responders that we have lost."

Before the earthquake struck, more than 8,000 people had turned to the Haitian Red Cross to receive training in first aid. These life-savers boosted the emergency response capacity of the National Society, which already had more than 2,000 dedicated volunteers, but it is feared that many have lost their lives in the disaster.

IFRC appeal

The IFRC is currently appealing for 105.7 million Swiss francs (103 million US dollars/73 million euro) to assist 300,000 people affected by the Haiti earthquake for three years.

Mauricio Bustamante, IFRC operations coordinator in Panama, said that the Red Cross Red Crescent response would include strong support for the Haitian National Red Cross Society.

"Part of our long-term plan is to support the Haitian Red Cross to recover and to become a stronger organization in the months and years to come," he says.