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Haiti earthquake: community networking enables ICRC to open first-aid posts

25-01-2010 Feature

Over 20,000 people displaced by the earthquake live in a sprawling makeshift camp in Bel Air, one of the poorest districts in Port-au-Prince. Because the neighbourhood has long been plagued by street violence and is perceived to be unsafe, few humanitarian organizations are active there today, despite the hardship its population has faced since last week's earthquake. The ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross set up two first-aid posts in the Bel Air camp two days ago. Until then, it had been difficult for displaced people living there to obtain medical care.

 

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/ht-e-00520    
 
  Bel Air, one of Port-au-Prince's most violent slums and site of a new ICRC first-aid post.    
  " We never worked in that specific neighbourhood before the earthquake, but we did know many of the key people in the community, " says Roberto Forin, an ICRC delegate who knows the area well. " By talking to them before bringing aid, we ensure that we are accepted and are able to provide a service that makes sense for the people we are trying to reach.”

The ICRC first conducted its own needs assessment in the camp. It then activated its contacts to listen to what they had to say. James, 28, spent years in jail and now works for a local NGO. He is a respected figure in Bel Air, knows many gang leaders and over the years has gained their respect. We meet him in a smaller camp just outside the neighbourhood with seven other community leaders, doctors amongst them. They explain that they know and trust the ICRC because they have seen it at work for years, and offer to act as a link between the organization and those who oversee the day-to-day administration of the camp. They explain that little aid has arrived, something that the ICRC's independent assessment confirms.

 

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/ht-e-00543    
 
  Haitian Red Cross volunteers give first aid to a child at the first-aid post set up by the ICRC in Bel Air.    

  Béatriz Karottki, an ICRC health delegate, explains to the gathering that the organization wants to open a first-aid post near the Asile Communal, where about 100 parti cularly vulnerable elderly people are living with 6,700 other people displaced by the earthquake. James and the local doctors point out that medicine is lacking. " We had to bury 283 dead in the last few days, " he says. Roberto and Béatriz explain to the group that the ICRC will not set up the post before it is certain that it is accepted in the camp. " The support of the community's leadership is essential for Haitian Red Cross volunteers to integrate into the community, " says Roberto. James and those assembled agree that the Asile Communal is a good choice for the first-aid post. However, they propose an alternative site for the second post the ICRC had planned to open in Place de la Paix. Bollimand is a safer area and its 7,000 residents have had no access to medical care at all since the earthquake.  

 

 

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/ht-e-00518    
 
  The earthquake flattened the home in which these elderly people were living. Now they have to sleep outside in Bel Air, one of Haiti's most violent slums.    
 

The first post is rapidly set up at the Asile with the help of the Haitian Red Cross volunteers who will staff it. Next to it, about 100 dishevelled elderly people. Some have relatives with them, others have been abandoned and seem completely lost, curled up on their bare beds, staring emptily at the canopy above their heads. Patients start arriving as soon as the canvas tent goes up. The ICRC team then follows James, Duval, and other community figures along the camp's narrow alleyways. People here have not seen foreigners since they moved in but they are welcoming. The camp seems to be rapidly turning into a shantytown, with its own food market and street vendors. A motorcycle drives between the tents. Women sell tiny amounts of okra and chilli placed on newspapers. Children are selling ice, young men are playing cards. " People are moving in for the long term, " says James, wh o has six children and was born in Bel Air. We walk into the Bollimand camp, which is divided into three zones controlled by different groups. Youngsters are clearing new areas where chicken coops used to be, to make space for the displaced families that keep arriving. James introduces the ICRC team to Pasteur Roland, the local preacher, who welcomes the delegates. Béatriz and Roberto agree that it makes sense to open the second first-aid post in the little clearing at the edge of the camp. Access in Bollimand is easy and the post's location will allow the Haitian Red Cross volunteers to better serve the community. " We thank you with all our hearts and welcome you, " says Pasteur Roland as the ICRC team sets up its second first-aid tent.