Saturday, January 23, 2010

Relief Efforts Continue As Rescue Winds Down in Haiti

The Haitian government and UN have decided to end the rescue operations and will go into a relief effort. Rescue teams that descended on Haiti in the hours and days after the devastating quake are ending their missions, although it is up to the individual units. The relief operations continue, including expanding medical facilities and setting up temporary refugee camps on the outskirts of Port au Prince. All the while, the official death toll continues climbing to well over 110,000. More than 600,000 are homeless.

The US Navy, Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command are continuing to support relief efforts with 30 ships on station or on the way, including the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the USNS Comfort hospital ship. While the comfort is in the reserve fleet and doesn't affect operational tempo elsewhere in the world, eventually the Carl Vinson's missions will have to be filled by other aircraft carriers, particularly if a crisis somewhere else in the world occurs.

The Hope for Haiti Relief telethon was held last night and while the stars came out in a rather low-key dressed down manner, I'm surprised that we haven't seen any reports indicating just how much money was raised in the effort. You would think that someone would be interested to know just how successful the effort was. I'd previously given to Doctors Without Borders in support of the relief efforts, and for those who are contemplating donating for the Haiti relief efforts, Congress is preparing legislation to allow donations made from January 11 through March 30 to apply to the 2009 tax year (proof of donation necessary).

Doctors Without Borders is reaching deeper into devastated communities around the capital by taking mobile units to go to where the injured and sick are.

Despite the humanitarian aid efforts, there are still issues with looters. In one truly horrifying instance, looters attacked an aid center:

Meanwhile, there are calls for the US to change its immigration laws to allow more Haitians to come to the US.

Also, one can only hope that some of the lessons from the 2004 Southeast Asian quake and tsunami, which killed more than 210,000 people can be applied to Haiti and how it recovers from this disaster.
Today, most areas swept away by the December 2004 catastrophe have been almost completely rebuilt.

It is possible, aid officials say, that visitors unaware of the Indian Ocean quake and tsunami might visit coastal communities in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia and not realize what had happened.

"Coming up on five years now, by and large, the obvious effects of the tsunami have been kind of taken away visually," said Jeff Wright, a humanitarian affairs adviser at World Vision. "A lot of the urban areas are rebuilt. Houses are back up, buildings are back up."

Aceh province was closest to the epicenter of the 2004 earthquake and hardest hit, with its capital Banda Aceh was left largely in ruins. Today the city is almost entirely rebuilt with infrastructure better and more durable than what existed previously, said Rod Volway, program director for Mercy Corps' Aceh, Indonesia, project. All that is left to be done, he said, is finish repair of a coastal road.

"Save for particular sites, I cannot recognize the Aceh of today as the one I saw in January 2005 myself," Volway said.

U.N. and nongovernmental relief officials with post-tsunami experience are now heading to Haiti. Even as search crews continue digging for survivors and humanitarian workers struggle to get a handle on aid delivery, planners are working on designs for the rebirth of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
Building infrastructure better and more durable will have lasting effects on the Haitian economy as well, as it would make the region better able to withstand the hurricanes that regularly sweep through the Caribbean and improve survivability during earthquakes.

At the same time, the tourist industry at Labadee continues, and that's just what the Haitians need -they need the revenues, but Labadee can and should also be utilized to increase the flow of aid into the country.

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