Aid workers and earthquake victims team up in face of disaster

Working day and night in Haiti’s devastated capital, Dr. Daniel Carucci, the U.N. Foundation’s vice president for global health, joined other first responders to deliver emergency aid and supplies in the wake of a Jan. 12 earthquake. Photo by: D. Evans/U.N. Foundation

Armed with reams of papers, they were organizing earthquake victims and conducting a census to record casualties, survivors and the extent of damages experienced by families.

They did not belong to any of the numerous international organizations helping Haitians recover from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. They were victims themselves, local survivors desperate to help and eager to ensure that aid from the United Nations and its humanitarian partners reached those who need it the most.

“It is incredible to see the resilience of these people,” Dr. Daniel Carucci, the U.N. Foundation’s vice president for global health, said of the men who approached him while he was helping to set up satellite phone booths in camps used by earthquake survivors last week.

Carucci was on the ground in Port-au-Prince 48 hours after the earthquake, which affected an estimated 3 million and may have killed 50,000 or more. Locals told him he was one of the first responders.

In and around Haiti’s capital, thousands have been gathering in in open fields, most of them living in makeshift tents or sleeping in the rubble. UNF is partnering with Télécoms sans Frontière to set up satellite phone booths so that survivors may call their loved ones.

UNF is also providing telecommunications services and other support to U.N. personnel on the grounds, whom Carucci described as “working tirelessly” to mobilize resources and coordinate the emergency response of multiple agencies in Haiti.

Telecommunications is essential, Carruci said. Bad cell phone reception has complicated the distribution of aid and coordination of first responders.

Carucci said he was touched to see the U.N.’s commitment while suffering the loss of its Haiti headquarters and several staff, including its mission chief. Hundreds of aid workers are still missing.

The U.N. is currently focused on providing immediate relief to earthquake victims. Food, water and security are the most in-demand resources. They are, according to the UNF official, being delivered now. The World Food Program has begun distributing food and UNICEF is delivering clean water. The U.N. peacekeeping corps is providing security and logistics services to make sure these resources are distributed peacefully and equitably. The World Health Organization has built several field hospitals, where basic medical services are being provided.

But the long-term health issues, Carucci noted, are already apparent. These include a lack of access to clean water and the possible outbreak of malaria and measles. There are also pregnant women and newborn babies in need of immediate medical attention.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.