Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Haiti Earthquake Victims Need

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Map courtesy: http://atlas.mapquest.com/

Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti is in total devastation. This is considered to be the worst earthquake disaster in a century. The saddest thing is that the government of Haiti was totally incapacitated, there were almost no government personnel to help in the rescue efforts in the first day or two. The world watched in horror how the common people were trying their best with their most limited and amateurish equipment and implements to rescue fellow Haitians from the rubble. Thousands of dead bodies are still lying on the sidewalks.

Fortunately, the world governments, voluntary agencies, institutions and individuals responded immediately to the catastrophe. Although quite late, their efforts will definitely save many precious lives.

Immediately after any disaster, the first 72 hours (three days and three nights) are very crucial in rescuing and saving lives.

Immediate Response and Relief

As workers of Caritas Bangladesh and later World Vision of Bangladesh, we had to deal with several deadly flood and cyclone disasters in Bangladesh in the 70's, 80's and 90's. From those experiences we can say that the following emergency response and relief materials are needed in the first 72 hours:

  • Consideration of local environment, weather condition, local customs, and people's food habits (Christians can eat almost everything, Hindus can't eat beef, Muslims can't eat pork, etc.) is very important for relief effort.
  • Employ rescuers and rescue machineries and vehicles. Bury the dead immediately.
  • Initially distribute dry foods (bread, immediately edible (munchable) cereals, dry fruits, snack bars, chocolate bars, edible nuts and seeds, chips, flattened rice, puffed rice or rice crispies and so on. Due to disaster, cooking facilities may not be immediately available.
  • If some people still possess cooking facilities, bulgur wheat, oatmeals, rice, lentils and beans can be given to them.
  • Provide bottled water or water purification tablets. Much of the water available in the disaster area gets polluted.
  • Provide enough medical personnel and medicines. Rush the seriously wounded to nearby hospitals or clinics and, if these are not available, arrange field clinics.
  • Arrange to provide cooked food through gruel kitchens.
  • Give cash to victims so that they may purchase food from the locality, if available.
  • Tents are very important to save the exposed victims from the sun or rain.
  • Battery-run torchlights and battery-operated radios are urgently needed.
  • For sleeping or just sitting and resting, mats, cheap carpets, inexpensive blankets and sleeping bags are important.
  • Clothing for men, women and children.
  • Baby food, powder milk, and energy drinks like 'Ovaltine' are important for children.
  • If possible, give sandals, cheap shoes and boots.
  • If possible, provide hurricane lanterns and kerosene oil, candles and match sticks.
  • Small pots and pans also can be given to those who have access to cooking facilities.
  • Building temporary public toilets is very crucial in stopping diseases to spread.
Some Useless Relief Items

When a disaster strikes and the news is everywhere, people get very much carried away and feel to be very generous. They want to give anything they think would be useful without consideration of the location, culture and habits of the disaster victims. There are items that should not be sent as relief items:

  • Chewing gums.
  • Warm clothes and heavy blankets in a tropical or warmer country.
  • Toothpastes and tooth brushes.
  • Typical women's clothes of western countries, such as undergarments, brassieres, hats and caps, etc. A country, where women do not wear western dresses, will find these items not only useless, but also embarrassing.
  • Expired or soon-to-expire goods, food items and medicines. What you cannot or should not use for yourself must not be given to others.
Rehabilitation and Development Work (Long Term)

Rehabilitation and development work take longer time to accomplish. These should be well-planned and coordinated, otherwise there is likelihood of duplication of work. Under this category the following can be done:

  • Building infrastructures: Houses, institutions, government offices and roads need to be repaired and rebuilt.
  • In a tropical country, one-storey houses can be made of corrugated iron-sheet roofs and walls. Pillars of the house can be made of concrete. Houses with more than one storey should be made with concrete and bricks strictly following local conditions and building codes.
  • Medium and deep drinking water tubewells need to be repaired or installed.
  • Educational materials (school exercise books, pencils, pens, papers, school books, school bags, etc.) are to be given to affected students.
  • Crop and vegetable seeds for farmers.
  • Fertilizers, irrigation system and the relevant agricultural facilities need to be restored.
  • Assistance in income generation is important. Under Test Relief work, men and women can be employed on daily wage basis to do repair or rebuilding work -- houses, roads and other infrastructure.
  • No asbestos sheets should be used in building purposes. It is now proven that asbestos is dangerous to human health.
It's An Opportunity to Build Port-au-Prince Anew

In the news it was told that this city has accessibility problem. It has only a few main roads with many unplanned narrow roads. Roads get clogged all the time.

Since most of the houses are devastated or precariously standing, a well-thought-out plan needs to be taken to demolish the standing houses and rebuild Port-au-Prince with more and wider roads. The UN can give a leadership and coordination in this respect. Bookmark and Share