Wednesday, January 13, 2010 Country Without a Net

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OPINION   | January 14, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor:  Country Without a Net
By Tracy Kidder
The history of Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters is long and complex, but the essence of it seems clear enough.

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NYT article: Aid Workers Scramble Amid Haiti’s Chaos

January 14, 2010
Aid Workers Scramble Amid Haiti’s Chaos

Governments and aid agencies from China to Grand Rapids began marshaling supplies and manpower to send to Haiti on Wednesday, while overwhelmed rescue workers already living in the earthquake-devastated capital of Port-au-Prince scrambled to set up makeshift clinics beside rubble from collapsed hospitals.

The worldwide rush to provide aid to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere was immediate and enormous. But the logistics of getting help to Haiti proved a frustrating challenge a day after the quake.

Flights were severely limited at Port-au-Prince’s main airport, telecommunications were barely functioning, operations at the port were shut down, and most of the medical facilities were severely damaged, if not simply razed. Some aid agencies were still trying to account for missing workers, while others found that merely entering the country was a difficult task.

A Red Cross field team, made up of officials from several nations, had to spend the night in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to gather its staff before taking the six-hour drive in the morning across the border to the earthquake zone.

“We were on the plane here with a couple of different agencies and they all are having similar challenges of access,” Colin Chaperon, the field director for the American Red Cross, said in a telephone interview. “There is a wealth of resources out there, and everybody has the good will to go in and support the Haitian Red Cross.”

But the conditions, he said, could be turning even more dangerous. “Obviously it’s a densely populated area and there have been reports of looting,” Mr. Chaperon said. “Clearly, there’s a big need to get the search and rescue efforts under way.”

Medical personnel from Doctors Without Borders, which had 800 people already in Haiti before the earthquake, established tents for triage and to accommodate patients evacuated from severely damaged hospitals. But they were mobbed by people who had suffered severe traumas and crushed limbs, and by others begging for help in rescuing trapped relatives.

“It’s a very chaotic situation,” said Paul McPhun, a director of the emergency management team for Doctors Without Borders, based in Toronto.

“We’re looking at private charter options, looking at getting people through the Dominican Republic,” Mr. McPhun said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. “We need to get people in, and get people fast. There’s not a shortage of getting people to go, but it’s how to get them there.”

Many international relief agencies have large presences in Haiti, not only for disaster relief from two hurricanes in 2008, but for AIDS education and other social and economic issues plaguing the nation. On Wednesday, religious-based and other non-profit organizations rapidly developed aid plans and quickly raised millions of dollars through social networking sites and other technologies.

The Pentagon said it was sending an aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson based in Norfolk, Va., to Haiti. It is expected to arrive by Friday and serve as an offshore staging area for helicopters and air support for the island. General Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said he was also considering sending an amphibious assault ship with an expeditionary unit of roughly 2,000 marines to help maintain security in the Haitian capital, which he said was “a serious concern.”

The United States Coast Guard dispatched four cutters, some equipped with helicopters, to Haiti early Wednesday morning.

France said it would send three military transport planes with aid supplies, and that 100 troops based in the French West Indies would be sent to help, according to TF1, a French television network. Britain, China, and Germany were sending assessment teams, and pledging financial support. .

Robyn Fieser, the regional information officer for Catholic Relief Services, said her office was able contact some of its 300 relief workers in Haiti overnight. Its Port-au-Prince office was still standing, and some workers slept outside overnight there, afraid or unable to get through rubble-blocked streets.

“All they heard last night was chanting and praying,” Ms. Fieser said by telephone from her office in Baltimore, Md.. “They did not hear any emergency vehicles or emergency efforts at all. All they saw was people doing rescue work on their own, with their bare hands.”

Caring for children was of immediate concern to at least two organizations with offices already in Haiti. Caryl Stern, chief executive officer of the U.S. Fund for Unicef, said that all but three of the 100 workers were accounted for on Wednesday. After helping communities with rescue efforts, she said her agency would gather unaccompanied children and “create safe havens,” for them and then focus on curbing diseases and providing clean water.

Smaller aid agencies said they did not have the resources to arrange large shipments and some said they must rely on airlines either to wave extra baggage fees or find enough volunteers to stuff their suitcases with first aid supplies.

The Haiti Foundation Against Poverty, a small nonprofit organization based in Grand Rapids, works with orphanages, schools and clinics in Les Bours and Cite Soleil. All have been damaged, said Kim Chapin, the director or education and child sponsorship, and another orphanage the foundation was about to purchase in Cite Soleil — called Hope House — was leveled.

“The best thing for people to help right now is to send money,” said Kim Chapin, the director of education and child sponsorship. “Shipments can’t get in. Shipments were terrible anyway because of the red tape with the government.”

In two weeks, Ms. Chapin said, volunteers from Grand Rapids plan to go to Haiti full of suitcases with supplies, including Pedialite, Gatorade, protein bars and rubbing alcohol. The director was planning to bring a 2-year-old girl, Kalenica, back to the United States for emergency heart surgery. “Now,” Ms. Chapin said, “we do not know if she’s even alive.”

For organizations that worked with medical centers outside the capital that were not damaged in the quake, the prospect for immediate relief seemed a little more optimistic. But even travel within the country was difficult.

Mr. McPhun, of Doctors Without Borders, said that any roads that were not strewn by rubble were made impassible during the night by people sleeping or lying wounded there.

Partners in Health said it was trying to send supplies to the capital from its nine medical centers in the Central Plateau of Haiti, about 100 miles from Port-au-Prince.

“The important thing is getting what we already have in country to the place that it’s needed,” said Andrew Marx, a spokesman for the agency. “There has to be a ‘there’ there.”

The World Food Program said it was airlifting additional food supplies from its emergency hub in El Salvador, which will provide more than half a million emergency meals.

Military and charter flights were not the only aircraft trying on Wednesday to land at the Port-au-Prince airport, where the control tower was reportedly destroyed by the quake. JetBlue said it would provide supplies and equipment to transport aid workers, the Haitian consul general in New York, Felix Augustin, said at a news conference.

“Most needed are medical supplies and water,” Mr. Augustin said.

Spirit Airlines, which operates flights between Port-au-Prince and Fort Lauderdale, said it planned to resume service as soon as possible, and also planned to participate in transporting aid workers and equipment to Haiti.

Donations flowed into aid organizations over the Internet and through mobile giving services, where people could give small donations in $5 or $10 amounts through text-messaging. The musician Wyclef Jean, who was raising money for his Yele Foundation to rebuild Haiti, had one of the most popular Twitter feeds on Wednesday. The American Red Cross said it had raised more than $700,000 through its mobile giving service, and more than $1 million online.

Even as medical supplies dwindled for the Haitian Red Cross, how soon they could be restocked was still in doubt. Mr. Chaperone, of the American Red Cross, said that supplies were being sent from the group’s warehouse in Panama — including enough tarpaulins, cooking sets and mosquito nets to assist 5,000 families left homeless by the destruction. He said, however, he did not yet how they would get there, by boat or by air.

Reporting was contributed by Maria Newman and Jon Elsen from New York, and Brian Knowlton, Eric Lipton and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington.

Flawed Building Likely a Big Element: NYT article

January 14, 2010
Flawed Building Likely a Big Element

Engineers and architects who have worked in or visited Haiti say that substandard design, inadequate materials and shoddy construction practices likely contributed to the collapse of many buildings in the earthquake that struck Tuesday.

Cameron Sinclair, executive director of Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit design group based in San Francisco, said he was “horrified” when he visited Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves last October to assess the quality of construction there.

Mr. Sinclair said that design and construction were far worse than in other developing countries he had visited. “In Haiti, most if not all of the buildings have major engineering flaws,” he said.

Most houses and other structures are built of poured concrete or block, there being very little lumber available due to mass deforestation, said Alan Dooley, a Nashville architect who designed a medical clinic, built of reinforced concrete, in Petite Rivière de Nippes, a fishing village 50 miles west of Port-au-Prince.

Concrete is very expensive — much of the cement for it comes from the United States, Mr. Dooley said — so some contractors cut corners by adding more sand to the mix. The result is a structurally weaker material that deteriorates rapidly, he said. Steel reinforcing bar is also expensive, he said, so there is a tendency to use less of it with the concrete.

Building codes are limited or nonexistent, so columns and other elements made from concrete are often relatively thin, designed without proper margins of safety. “We would double the design strength, just to give it a factor of safety,” Mr. Dooley said, referring to practices in the United States. “There they’d design it to what it would hold.”

Concrete blocks are often substandard too, said Peter Haas, executive director of Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a nonprofit organization that is working on several projects in Haiti. Many of them are made in small batches at people’s homes, and the quality can vary. “When you’re buying blocks at the store you really have no idea of where they’re from,” Mr. Haas said. “And all it takes is for the block that was made at home to collapse.”

When builders in Haiti do take disasters into account in their designs, their most recent experience has been with hurricanes, the last major earthquake having occurred two centuries ago. “Newer construction has been developed to withstand hurricanes, not earthquakes,” said John McAslan, a London architect who has studied Haitian buildings, working with the Clinton Global Initiative. “If you engineer for one you’re not necessarily covering the other.”

Mr. Dooley said that his original design for the medical clinic called for a steel roof, but that was changed to a reinforced concrete one to better withstand hurricane-force winds. The building survived the earthquake with apparently little damage, he said.

But many other concrete roofs presumably collapsed, adding to the loss of life. Mr. Sinclair said he had seen houses where builders put concrete roofs on top of low-grade blocks. “Then it just pancakes,” he said.

Request by TED

TED has been asked by govt to help find best tech solutions for aiding Haiti. If you have suggestions, email

NYC folks can donate to this radio station

NY people wanting to donate dry food, toiletries, first aid kits and money. Go to Radio Nago, a community based station serving the Haitian community for over 15 years..Radio Nago 89.3 FM 591 Ocean AveBrooklyn, NY 11226 Apt 5F, tel:718 856 3092 Mr. Aspilaire

Fwd: Stand with Haiti

Zeeshan Suhail
Google Voice: +1.917.267.2362

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Dear friends,   

Haiti's worst earthquake in 200 years struck yesterday, devastating the capital city, killing thousands and threatening over 3 million people in this desperately poor country.   

Haitians are urgently appealing to the world for help -- we're already in touch with strong local organisations mobilising community-based relief efforts. Let's send a worldwide wave of donations to the front lines, to save lives now and help people recover and rebuild. Avaaz will work partners to make sure the help reaches those who need it most. Click below to donate:  

Based on expert advice from leading humanitarian NGOs who have been working in Haiti for over 30 years, we'll offer donations to trusted local organizations, including:
  1. Honor and Respect for Bel Air, a big community-based network in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, which is also supported by our friends at the respected Brazilian NGO Viva Rio
  2. Coordination Régionale des Organisations de Sud-Est (CROSE), which brings together some of the most active community groups in the South of Haiti where the earthquake struck hardest. These groups include: women's groups, schools networks and local cooperatives
In 2008, Avaaz members donated over $2 million for Burmese monks to respond to the devastating Cyclone Nargis. Our money made an incredible difference there -- because it went directly to local people on the front lines of the aid effort.   

Times of painful tragedy can bring out the best in us by bringing people together. Let's join with the people of Haiti to help them rescue their communities from this brutal disaster -- act now at this link:  

With hope for Haiti,  

Luis, Paul, Graziela, Paula, Ricken, Pascal, Alice, Benjamin, Milena and the whole Avaaz team

More information:

Haiti devastated by massive earthquake (BBC):  

Thousands feared dead as major quake strikes Haiti (Reuters):  

Deadly earthquake hits Haiti (Reuters pictures):  


Want to support Avaaz? We're entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated online team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way -- donate here.

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To contact Avaaz, please do not reply to this email. Instead, write to us via the webform at You can also call us at +1-888-922-8229 (US) or +55 21 2509 0368 (Brazil).

U.S. Residents Mount Humanitarian Aid Efforts in Haiti


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via Main RSS Feed by Garry Pierre-Pierre, Inter Press Service on 1/13/10

A group of Haitian-American physicians and engineers hopes to be at work on the ground in Haiti by the weekend.


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Haiti earthquake FAQ.


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via Slate Magazine by Christopher Beam on 1/13/10

Tens of thousands of people are thought to have died in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti Tuesday, destroying much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The disaster raises a number of questions.

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Haiti - Port-au-Prince - Earthquake - Capital - Caribbean


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Haiti Earthquake. The Day After, Part II


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via (title unknown) by Mark Leon Goldberg on 1/13/10

MSF says all hospitals are unusable. OCHA Chief says 50-100 people still trapped in the rubble of the UN HQ. First statement from MINUSTAH. Continuous updates.

On a conference call with Medicines sans Frontiere moments ago, a representative in Haiti said that all of the hospitals to which it would normally refer patients have either collapsed or are otherwise unusable.  All MSF can do at the moment is administer first aid. There are no "referral" options for secondary care beyond first aid, but MSF is exploring options to deploy a "floating hospital" to Haiti.  

A UN Dispatch reader and close UN observor summarizes some of the initial reactions from the UN and the UN's role in Haiti at the moment.   


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Rajiv Shah: Point man on Haiti crisis


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via The Cable by Josh Rogin on 1/13/10

Less than a week after his swearing in, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah is faced with his first major challenge as administration of USAID. He is officially leading the U.S. relief effort through the Office of Disaster Assistance.

Shah was out in front of the cameras today explaining the administration's response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, where the death toll may have topped 100,000.

After doing a string of television appearances Wednesday morning, including the Today show, Shah joined State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills and Southern Command head Gen. Douglas Fraser to brief reporters on the U.S. response.

 "We are working aggressively and in a highly coordinated way across the federal government to bring all of the assets and capacities we have to bear to quickly and effectively provide as much assistance as possible," said Shah, "The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives. That is the president's top priority and is what the president has directed us to do."

Two Urban Search and Rescue Unites of about 72 people each will deploy to Haiti immediately, Shah said, and 15 people doing surveillance and analysis will be on the ground today. Additional teams from various government agencies are being identified to go down there as we speak, Shah added.

Fraser said the military is the moving aircraft carrier Carl Vinson from Norfolk to the area to add to the significant assets already close by. A large amphibious ship with a full Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 2,000 men, could be deployed as well.

The State Department has issued a travel warning and given instructions to the approximately 45,000 American citizens currently in Haiti, Mills said. There were several American injuries but almost all 172 Embassy personnel have been accounted for. Although the UN building sustained considerable damage, the U.S. embassy is in intact and has become a relief hub. Non-essential staff are being exited from the country.

Shah emphasized that the final decisions on the U.S. response would take a little longer to develop.

"This is about having options, and the president has asked us to make sure we look across the entire government, all of our capabilities, and make sure we generate as many options as possible," he said, "And as we get real information on the ground about what is the best way to pursue the president's goal of saving lives in this critical time frame, we'll be able to narrow those options and make strategic decisions."

Earlier Wednesday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said State hosted a conference call with the American Ambassador Kenneth Merten, DCM David Lindwall, and officials from the White House, Coast Guard, DOD, SOUTHCOM, USAID, and others.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the tragedy from Honolulu, where she is on route to Asia. She said she has already spoken with Shah, Mills, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.

She won't cancel her trip but will stay actively involved in the response. The event seriously derails her ambitious plan to improve the overall situation in Haiti.

"It is Biblical, the tragedy that continues to daunt Haiti and the Haitian people.  It is so tragic," said Clinton, "They had the four hurricanes last year.  We had a good plan.  We were just feeling positive about how we could implement that plan.  It was US, UN, international.  We had donors lined up.  We had private businesses beginning to make investments.  There was so much hope about Haiti's future, hope that had not been present for years.  And along comes Mother Nature and just flattens it."


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Haiti's Coming Public Health Challenges


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via (title unknown) by Alanna Shaikh on 1/13/10

Haitians now face a daunting set of health challenges, including typhoid, dengue fever, malaria, and getting treatment for serious injuries.

Once you've survived the earthquake, what happens? Haitians now face a daunting set of health challenges, including typhoid, dengue fever, malaria, and getting treatment for serious injuries.


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Tragedy Unfolds in Haiti: What's Happening and What You Can Do


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via Main RSS Feed by Staff, AlterNet on 1/13/10

"It is a disaster of the century."


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Haiti Earthquake: Video of Rescue at UN Compound


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via (title unknown) by Mark Leon Goldberg on 1/13/10

A chilling video of a rescue attempt at the MINUSTAH headquarters.

See this post for a statement from the acting MINUSTAH spokesperson.   As of noon, a UN official said at least 50-100 people were still trapped in the rubble.


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How to provide disaster relief.


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via Slate Magazine by Sandy Stonesifer on 1/13/10

Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation and prompted people around the world to ask how they could help with relief efforts: Is it best to send supplies, volunteer manpower, or simply cut a check? After a spate of natural disasters last fall, Sandy Stonesifer offered up the most effective ways to aid disaster relief. Her "My Goodness" column is reprinted below.

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Haiti - Caribbean - Earthquake - Natural disaster - Port-au-Prince


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