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Responding to Haitians

by Phyllis Tsang

eMi Disaster Response Coordinator Scott Powell training Haitians to use water filtration system.
eMi Disaster Response Coordinator Scott Powell training Haitians to use water filtration system.
Children lining up for clean water
Children lining up for clean water
180 morts = 180 perished
180 morts = 180 perished

  Humans are helplessly inferior to natural disasters.  They come and go at their time, location, and magnitude.  The best chance humans have to survive is to plan and prepare before a natural disaster strikes, to prevent damage and causalities, and to respond and recover efficiently and effectively.  

"Following immediate search and rescue efforts, safe shelter, and clean water will be [the] critical needs in the days ahead,” Scott Powell, eMi's Disaster Response Coordinator, reported a few days after the earthquake struck Haiti.
Engineering Ministries International (eMi) is one of the many NGOs that responded to Haiti and Chile's desperate need of help after the catastrophic earthquakes.  It has sent out seven teams of civil and structural engineers thus far to assess structural damage, set up clean water systems, and to equip local people with technical skills to do the same.
Two of the pressing needs were setting up water filtration systems to provide clean water, and doing structural assessments of hospitals and clinics to make sure they are safe to operate.  Next came to setting up tent cities for the internally displaced people, known as IDP camps.  
Haitian government reported that the earthquake has left 1,000,000 people homeless.  The IDP camps, typically housing 5000 people or so each—provide temporary shelters until the rescue and recovery phase shifts to reconstruction.  On Jan. 29, one of the eMi teams began to survey a 62-acre site that would be master planned for resettlement housing. They expect construction of small homes to begin soon.
On Feb. 28th, architect and Vice President of eMi Gary MacPhee wrote: 
"Today we met with a US Army Corps engineer in charge of operations at the Hotel Montana and walked and studied the collapse site and heard the stories of deaths and near misses—fearsome, terrible, horrific...and that's after six weeks of clearing away. Even my California structural experts had never seen anything like it."
On the ground, the eMi teams worked long and hard hours:  6 a.m. wake-up; 7 a.m. on the road; work till 5p.m. without any lunch; 6p.m. return to camp—sometimes later.  Despite the "burst of action and movement,"  Daniel Zeiden, director of the Samaritan's purse office in Bolivia, shared later after returning home, "my feelings and emotions were frozen...The images, smells, and sounds were too monumental for one to take in and digest; the human suffering just too overwhelming to comprehend."
He continued, "So one went about focusing on the activities of the day—planning and executing, delegating tasks, [and] defining solutions. But the misery and hopelessness of the situation seeped in sometimes, shaking our souls."
A lot of us question how people in Haiti are able to wake up the next day, face the miserable reality, and live.  "A week or so after the quake, markets re-opened and people tried to piece together what was left of their former lives and adjust into some sort of normalcy," wrote Zeiden.  Of people’s sheer resilience, he stated, "One needs to see it to believe."
Soon after returning from Haiti, Scott Powell assembled another team to Chile, working tirelessly alongside with other organizations and people.  In the darkest of times, hope is found not in the situation, but in people.
 
DID YOU KNOW?
 
Haiti's 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 caused 233,000 lives and mass devastation in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the fourth deadliest earthquake in history.  Chile's 8.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 27 caused buildings to collapse, power outage, and 432 deaths.  Just 81km offshore of Okinawa, Japan another 7.0 earthquake stroke on Feb. 26, the day before Chile's. No damage reported, only a tsunami alert was issued.  What is the reason for the various degrees of destruction during an earthquake?
"Earthquakes don't kill people," said John Mutter, a seismologist and disaster expert at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "Bad buildings kill them."
According to TIME, concrete blocks used to construct buildings in the capital of Haiti are often handmade, and are of wildly varying quality.  A black of concrete in Haiti may only weight an eighth of a concrete block in U.S, jeopardizing the structural integrity of buildings.  Better-developed nations like Chile and Japan fair much better in earthquakes because the quality of their infrastructures and building design, whereas Haiti, one of the poorest countries in West Hemisphere, is much more vulnerable in disastrous situations.
 

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Topics: Environment
Tags: Haiti
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