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Haiti: ICRC still meeting quake needs while resuming traditional role

01-03-2010 Operational Update

Seven weeks after the earthquake struck, the ICRC continues to respond to people's vital needs in many stricken parts of Haiti. Over the past fortnight it has reunited four children with their families in Port-au-Prince.

©ICRC/J. Barry 
 
Women collect supplies from the ICRC in the compound of St Bernadette's Church in Martissant, one of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince. 
     

   
©ICRC/J. Barry 
 
Valère Mirlande and Marie Wonggière J. Sully entertain women as they wait to pick up their supplies, and explain how the distribution process will work. 
     

   
©ICRC/J. Barry 
 
Staff check a name against the beneficiary list. Community committees chose the recipients of essential supplies from among those in Martissant who were most in need. 
      
Volunteers of the Haitian National Red Cross Society have been at the forefront of providing disaster relief from the moment the earthquake struck, running first-aid posts, passing on health messages and helping in vaccination campaigns and aid distributions. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent relief effort is being coordinated and led by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. For more details on the overall Red Cross and Red Crescent response to the earthquake, please visit the Federation website.  

 Children reunited with their families  

The ICRC, working closely with the government's Institut de bien-être social et de recherche and with the Haitian Red Cross, reunited four boys with their families over the past two weeks. The children, aged between two and 12 years, were from various parts of Port-au-Prince. The family reunifications were the first to be completed by the ICRC since the earthquake rocked the capital.

Since children are highly vulnerable, especially in times of natural or man-made disaster, every precaution needs to be taken to ensure that records are kept when parents and their children are separated, for whatever reason. Before going ahead with any family reunification, identities must be verified and authorizations must be obtained from the Haitian authorities – and it must be confirmed that the family members are being reunited of their own free will.

 Risk of disease  

The dire sanitation situation in the camps in Port-au-Prince continues to be of primary concern. Growing rubbish heaps must be removed, and latrines emptied, or they could become breeding grounds for mosquitoes spreading malaria and dengue fever in the weeks ahead, once the rainy season starts.

The risk of an outbreak of contagious disease is all the higher considering that tens of thousands of camp dwellers are squashed together in makeshift shelters. As a preventive measure, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, together with the Haitian Red Cross and the ICRC, have begun a massive, earthquake-related vaccination campaign, led by the Haitian government, to inoculate children against German measles, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria, and adults against the latter two diseases.

 Distribution of aid in violence-prone Martissant  

Over the past few days, the ICRC has distributed 3,050 sets containing tarpaulins and rope, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen items, soap and jerrycans to earthquake-affected families in Martissant, one of the poorest, most violence-prone neighbourhoods of the capital. The ICRC has been working in Haiti since 1994 and in the slum neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince for more than a decade. As a result, community leaders accept the ICRC's neutral, impartial and humanitarian work, and distributions such as the one in Martissant take place with very little disruption and a great deal of goodwill.

Registration cards for the distribution were given only to women. They waited patiently in long lines for their turn to collect sets of tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen items, soap and jerrycans. " My legs ache waiting here, " remarked one woman. " But it is worth it. " Two ICRC staff members gave out information about the distribution procedures and encouraged the women to be patient as they queued by entertaining them with songs and role-play. " We share jokes and make them laugh, " commented Marie Wongglère J. Sully, one of the staff. " At the same time, we can help speed up the distribution process by explaining what the women have to do when they get to the head of the queue. "

 Concern about detainees  

The ICRC is resuming its traditional activities, including visits to places of detention and police stations throughout the country, where many detainees are being placed temporarily as the central prison was damaged by the earthquake. Given the current difficult situation, the ICRC is concerned more than ever about the welfare of detainees and is discussing overcrowding, treatment, prisoner records and other detention-related matters with prison authorities.

Two large tents were donated to the Ministry of Justice, the premises of which were ruined in the earthquake. One tent will provide a temporary location for a tribunal; the other will serve as office space.

 Over the past two weeks, ICRC activities in Haiti have included the following:  

 
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  • Restoring family links
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    • On 18 February, the ICRC reunited three boys, aged eight, 10 and 12, with their families in Port-au-Prince. It reunited another boy, aged two-and-a-half, with his mother on 25 February after transporting him to Port-au-Prince from Cap-Haïtien.
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    • The ICRC is currently processing over 100 tracing cases. These include not only people seeking news of missing loved ones, but also 52 unaccompanied children for whom the ICRC is looking for their parents or guardians. This can sometimes be a lengthy process. However, the ICRC firmly believes that it is in the long-term interest of all concerned that the legal and practical formalities are completed before a child and his or her family are reunited.
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    • Haitian Red Cross volunteers run tracing posts where people can register their names on the ICRC tracing website. The database currently contains over 28,400 names, including those of more than 5,700 people in Haiti announcing that they are alive.
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  • Detainee welfare
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    • In Port-au-Prince, ICRC delegates visited the prison in Carrefour and the women's prison in Pétionville, where they delivered a total of 440 hygiene kits containing toothbrushes, soap and other toiletries. They also provided prison authorities with cleaning materials and gave detainees and their families the opportunity to contact each other by telephone.
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    • An ICRC delegate is visiting prisons and police stations in the south of the country to assess needs relating to the earthquake as well as to perform the ICRC's usual tasks. In this region, too, the ICRC has made it possible for detainees to talk with their families by telephone.
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    • A total of 815 tarpaulins were donated to prison authorities in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel to be used for temporary sheltering.
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    • ICRC water engineers coordinated the cleaning and disinfecting of the civilian prison in Archaie. Similar work had previously been carried out in the Port-au-Prince civilian prison.
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  • Health
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    • As at 26 February, some 73,000 children and adults of just under 200,000 targeted people had been vaccinated. The figure includes 13,365 children below eight years of age. They were also given vitamin A supplements and de-worming medication. The ICRC has so far been supporting the campaign in three areas where it has worked for years: Martissant, Bel-Air and Canapé-Vert.
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    • Ten ICRC-supported Haitian Red Cross first-aid posts treated over 1,200 patients. In addition, Red Cross volunteers promoted hygiene practices and disseminated public health messages in several camps. A mobile health clinic, staffed by members of the Finnish, Swedish and French National Red Cross Societies, worked with the Haitian Red Cross first-aid posts in Carrefour-Feuille and Canapé-Vert. It is due to expand its service to Martissant in the coming days.
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  • Water and sanitation
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    • Work has begun to install 50 latrines in the Asile neighbourhood. Twenty per cent of them will be adapted for use by the disabled. Latrines will be installed at other sites in the coming days.
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    • A waste-management programme is about to start using waste collected during ongoing ICRC sanitation activities in six locations in Port-au-Prince, including the overcrowded camps for displaced people (IDPs) in Place Boyer and Boliman.
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    • In Cité-Soleil, the biggest shantytown with over 200,000 inhabitants, ICRC water engineers repaired leaks to the secondary water-distribution network.
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    • The ICRC continues to provide clean water for some 16,000 people living in camps and in the Cité-Soleil neighbourhood.
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    • Protocols have been agreed with the Port-au-Prince water board (CAMEP) concerning the provision of fuel to three pumping stations in the Duvivier neighbourhood.
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For further information, please contact:
  Jessica Barry, ICRC Port-au-Prince, mobile: +509 3456 3392, satellite: +88 165 146 6175
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24