>Americas Wednesdays: A Haiti Update

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The Council recently hosted Carolyn Miles (COO of Save the Children) for a breakfast briefing and update on the situation in Haiti.
Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary of the event:
Ms. Miles began her talk by giving some background statistics on the Haiti relief effort. On January 12, 2010, the worst earthquake in Haiti’s modern history struck the island, killing more than 230,000 and leaving 300,000 injured. Today, nine months after the quake, the country is still in a state of emergency. Large amounts of rubble have not been cleared and reconstruction has lagged. About 1.3 million Haitians are still homeless and living in tent camps, of which about 400,000 are children. She said that delivering aid in Haiti is one of the most difficult projects Save the Children has engaged in.
After discussing the ongoing earthquake relief effort, Ms. Miles discussed the current cholera outbreak spreading across Haiti – and the additional complications this adds to the work of aid organizations active in Haiti. To date, over 8,100 people are sick and over 550 have perished. Ms. Miles pointed out that the outbreak occurred in a part of Haiti unaffected by the earthquake, but that heavy rains from hurricane Tomas helped spread the illness, which has now been detected in Port-au-Prince. In addition, Haiti lacks a water system, impairing access to clean drinking water. The key to controlling the outbreak, Ms. Miles said, is early detection and providing critical information on prevention. According to Ms. Miles, cholera can be treated easily with oral rehydration salts if the illness is detected early. Additionally, there are many simple ways to avoid infection, such as using clean water to wash food and practicing basic sanitary habits.

Ms. Miles stressed that the goal of Save the Children is to “Build Back Better” in Haiti. The organization wants to do more than restore life to the way it was before the earthquake. It wants to leave the inhabitants of Haiti better off. Ms. Miles said that despite the challenges in Haiti, Haitians have access to better healthcare and sanitation than they did before the quake. Ms. Miles discussed the mobile clinics, schools, and child friendly areas that Save the Children has established that are improving the quality of life within the camps.

However, reconstruction will take years. According to Ms. Miles, Save the Children’s five-year plan for Haiti reconstruction was overly optimistic, and the organization is now focusing on a ten-year plan. Ms. Miles compared Save the Children’s experience in Haiti to the relief effort in Indonesia after the tsunami. In Indonesia, the government took decisive action, but in Haiti, the government has been slow to provide aid to the millions of Haitians affected by the quake. The government’s inaction has often stymied aid groups and has delayed reconstruction efforts. Ms. Miles said that Haiti is one of the most difficult countries she has worked in, and that private enterprise will be crucial to Haiti’s reconstruction.
 For more information on the current situation in Haiti, check out the following resources:
  • Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC (here)
  • The New York Times‘ Haiti page (here)
  • The Guardian‘s Haiti page (here)
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