Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti Relief Efforts Continue As Challenges Remain

The USNS Comfort is operating around the clock to provide medical care to Haitians injured in the devastating quake, but it is barely scratching the surface in a country where medical care was sorely lacking before the quake pretty much destroyed the entire infrastructure. The problem is that the backlog of people seeking care for their injuries has led to them suffering multiple complications, which makes cases significantly more complex to treat.
Because of untreated injuries, infectious diseases and dismal sanitary conditions, health workers said that the natural disaster that struck Haiti more than a week ago remained a major medical crisis and that, unless quickly controlled, it would continue to take large numbers of lives in the days and weeks ahead.

“There are still thousands of patients with major fractures, major wounds, that have not been treated yet,” said Dr. Eduardo de Marchena, a University of Miami cardiologist who oversaw a tent hospital near the airport where hundreds of severely injured people were being tended. “There are people, many people, who are going to die unless they’re treated.”

For the seriously ill, the chances of surviving may depend on leaving Haiti entirely. On Wednesday morning, a paramedic rushed up to Dr. de Marchena with news of a newborn who had arrived at another clinic in dire condition. After hearing that the baby could barely breathe, Dr. de Marchena said, “Should I get him airlifted to the United States?”

The paramedic hesitated for a moment, and the doctor said, “Do it.” The baby was soon boarded for medical care in Miami.

In the squatter camps now scattered across this capital, there are still people writhing in pain, their injuries bound up by relatives but not yet seen by a doctor eight days after the quake struck. On top of that, the many bodies still in the wreckage increase the risk of diseases spreading, especially, experts say, if there is rain.
If there's a silver lining thus far, it has been that it hasn't rained since the quake, which would have made already intolerable conditions even worse. Yet, we will likely never know the true death toll, where estimates ranged from tens of thousands to 200,000 or more. The lack of infrastructure and that all too many people are still buried in the rubble accounts for the wide range, but it will eventually settle on an accepted figure - all too high for the people of Haiti to bear.

One can only hope that out of this massive crisis, the Haitian people will rebuild with stronger construction that will allow these structures to survive not only quakes, but hurricanes, and that the higher initial costs for better building will be paid back by not having to rebuild after every storm that hits and lower death tolls over time from natural disasters.

The 82nd Airborne has set up a refugee camp on a golf course overlooking Port au Prince.They've had to provide all services, including basic infrastructure to serve 50,000 people who are now homeless. The US Navy is sending another group of ships to assist in relief efforts. The USS Nassau amphibious ready group will be headed to Haiti to participate in relief efforts. The Nassau carried the 24th Marine expeditionary unit and each of the three ships in the group have significant capabilities to deploy helicopters and bring equipment ashore by both air and sea.

The US Coast Guard continues working to clear the port of debris, which includes fallen cranes and shipping containers that litter the waters around the docks. The port at Labadee, which is where cruise ships routinely dock (and continue docking even after the quake), is seen as a viable alternative to bringing supplies into Haiti, even as the US is deploying more ships to help clear the port at Port au Prince.

CNN has additional updates, including that all Oxfam run site now have running water. They're also reporting that while most food being distributed around the city is nonperishable, some sales of fresh bread and ice are being reported. The US military will station aid representatives at the airport to prioritize flights based on the aid being brought in to streamline operations.

One problem is that some charitable groups are coming to the country so ill-prepared to deal with the disaster and needs, that they're more of a hindrance than a help, particularly if they come without necessary items to be self sufficient and/or bring donated items that aren't critical to relief.

The US has reopened the port at Port au Prince. That's a critical step in the relief efforts since far more equipment and materials can be delivered by sea than by air.
The Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, General Douglas Fraser, said a U.S. landing craft will enable 150 containers to move through the port Thursday. He said the capacity will grow to at least 250 containers a day Friday when a commercial vessel arrives.

Debris around the port, wrecked roads and congestion at the damaged main airport in the capital have made delivering relief to Haitians difficult.

General Fraser said more than 1,400 flights are on a wait list to land in to Port-au-Prince. He said officials have opened another airport in the Haitian city of Jacmel and two airports in the Dominican Republic to help, but road travel from the sites remains difficult.

Aid workers on the ground in Haiti say they are making progress getting food and water to survivors, but the death toll could increase because of untreated injuries and disease. Now nine days after the quake, they are shifting their focus from search and rescue operations to relief.
A full list of the 30 US Navy, Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command ships deployed to assist in the relief efforts is here.

Yet, we've got [T]hugo Chavez busy claiming that the US caused the earthquake with some super secret weapon.

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