One week after the earthquake in Haiti, the Humanitarian Coalition has raised $3.5 million dollars (towards their $5 million dollar objective) which has gone towards the distribution of water purification tablets, four water bladders containing 5,000 litres, 2,200 hygiene kits, 1,500 jerry cans, food and water for over 2,000 people at a local hospital and much more.

The Coalition brings together the joint efforts of CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec and Save the Children Canada. It’s designed to provide widespread and effective response in emergencies with a combined presence in 120 countries. In Haiti, the Coalition members have over 600 people on the ground ensuring that donations from Canadians reach those in need immediately in an efficient, effective and coordinated fashion.

Everybody has been affected by this tragedy. Aid workers have lost colleagues and friends. Survivors have lost members of their families. Many have lost their homes. But they’re gathering and regrouping to see what they can do in the immediate relief and long term reconstruction.

For the last thirty years, Save the Children has been working in Haiti with local partners on issues of child protection, education and health. In the last week, they’ve focused on getting medical supplies into hospitals.

On Tuesday, they started mobile clinics in Leogane with a crew of international volunteer doctors who will be coming to help with the clinics. They’re also working to get emergency shelters and structures from a Canadian company which will be used to set up child-friendly spaces.

Save the Children has been asked to take the lead in tracing missing people and family reunification. These child-friendly spaces are places where children who survived the earthquake can come to begin their recovery. Save the Children will try to locate extended family for children who’ve lost their parents in the earthquake and who end up in various camps, hospitals and clinics. A trained crew takes photos and creates posters to find family members.

“In any emergency, children are particularly vulnerable,” said David Morley, President and CEO of Save the Children Canada in a written statement on January 15. “We have a duty to ensure that their immediate needs are met, while also providing them with secure, child-friendly spaces where they can feel safe in the midst of the turmoil that surrounds them.”

In the absence of their government Morley reported that Haitians in almost all cases “have been calm and peaceful while showing remarkable restraint and orderliness in the face of horrific destruction.’

CARE Canada has been in Haiti since 1954. Their focus during this crisis is providing clean water and hygiene kits in order to stop the spread of disease. Their efforts will increase over the coming days as they switch to other non-food items such as tarpaulins, mosquito nets and other materials.

“What CARE workers on the ground are telling us is that they’re seeing a perfect storm,” said Kevin McCort, President and CEO of CARE Canada at a teleconference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

What that means is the worst possible set of circumstances for a disaster: the poorest nation in the hemisphere in a country that was still recovering from a series of tropical storms in 2008, a densely populated area with up to three million people affected, government structures and systems decimated and only one major airport.

The magnitude of the damage is unprecedented.

But what CARE is most concerned about during the next week is the most vulnerable in Haiti: women and girls. It’s estimated that there are 37,000 pregnant women in the disaster zone and Haiti has the highest rate of maternal death in the region with 670 deaths per 100,000 live births. They’re concerned that new mothers may stop breast feeding because they don’t have enough food or water. This poses a huge risk to newborns.

An additional 10,000 pregnant women will need delivery service within the coming months with 1,500 of them needing care for life threatening complications during delivery.

The risk of sexual violence and exploitation also increases during times of crisis, especially for women and girls. CARE is sending gender specialists to Haiti to address these challenges and incorporate the concerns of women and girls directly into their programs.

The Coalition has learned from previous disasters that coordination is the only way to get aid to the right people as fast as possible. They’re experienced at distributing supplies and food in safe ways. “We cannot simply throw food and water out of the windows of a truck and hope for the best,” said McCort. “We know that those types of distributions spark riots and violence.”

That’s why professional agencies insist on controlling, managing and organizing distributions so that the poorest and most vulnerable receive the assistance they need, even as their staff on the ground are still reeling from the impact of the earthquake.

People who have buried their own family members are now leading community responses. But while they’re still involved in the initial phases of rescue and recovery, they’re already thinking about the longer process of reconstruction.

Next Monday, world leaders will meet in Montreal to discuss long term reconstruction plans for Haiti. This is an area of great concern for the Humanitarian Coalition, a group of organizations who have been in Haiti for decades.

“If ever there were a country where building back better is absolutely imperative clearly it is Haiti,” said Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada.

So Fox and his colleagues are looking to governments to quickly develop the next phase of the reconstruction plan for Haiti, ensuring that the government and the people take the lead in developing that plan with the assurance that the voices of the most marginalized are heard. They believe that part of that plan should include debt forgiveness as well as new funding in the form of grants, instead of loans that will indebt the country for decades to come.

Sustainable and equitable development requires serious investment in public services like health, education, water and sanitation in urban and rural areas.

On Wednesday, Save the Children reported “that a 6.1 magnitude aftershock caused additional damage and emotional trauma in Haiti.”

Annie Foster, Save the Children’s team leader in Port-au-Prince said in a statement that, “Children and families are still sleeping in the open, among the rubble. They are very vulnerable – this aftershock would have terrified them. We are working flat out to assist them, bringing in supplies and rolling them out to the people who need them as fast as we can.”

The Humanitarian Coalition reported “that relief operations are continuing while aid workers on the ground prepare for increased numbers seeking help as emotionally distraught Haitians regroup for the upcoming night.”

“There was a real rumble, and then the earth moved. It wasn’t that long, but I can’t tell. I was running,” said Bodgan Dumitru, a Canadian on the CARE emergency team in Haiti, in a statement.

“We are next to a camp where displaced people are living, and when the quake hit a big scream came out of the camp. They’ve lost everything, all their houses, and they are terrified.” 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.