Isabelle Daoust visited American University Washington College of Law (WCL) on January 20, 2010 to discuss relief efforts after the Haitian earthquake on January 12, 2010. Ms. Daost, a graduate of McGill University, Faculty of Law, has worked for both the International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva and the Canadian Red Cross, and is currently with the American Red Cross.
Following the earthquake, Ms. Daoust described the continuing devoted efforts of the American Red Cross to respond to the recent tragedy that has impacted three million people in Port-au-Prince and killed more than 111,000, as of January 23 when search and rescued officially ceased. She reports that in her office, many employees have cots set up to sleep at work and have been working around the clock to help coordinate relief efforts from the United States.
President Obama visited the American Red Cross on Monday, January 18, to encourage employees, and also to remind them that there is hope in the wake of such an awful tragedy. Before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It had a population of nine million people who had experienced years of dictatorship, political instability, and then armed conflict from 2004 to 2007. The average male life expectancy was 59, compared with 79 years in the United States. In the aftermath of the earthquake, there is an opportunity to rectify past problems. Now, while the international community is providing support and paying attention, the Red Cross and other agencies are attempting to develop new and better infrastructure and provide long-term support to the nation.
On January 12, the earthquake, the worst effect of which was felt in the capital city Port-au-Prince, reached a magnitude that ranged from 6.7 to 7.3, with the longest in a series of quakes lasting forty seconds. The presidential palace, police stations, and many government buildings were destroyed. The airport was unable to function for 24 to 48 hours after the quake and the port continues to be completely unusable, making it impossible for ships to get to Port-au-Prince. Relief agencies that had a previous presence in Haiti are struggling to cope with their own losses while organizing relief efforts. The United Nations lost at least seventy of its employees, including its three top officials in Haiti, with many others still missing.
Currently, non-profit agencies, international bodies, and government aid officials are collaborating to provide effective assistance to the most vulnerable people. Displaced persons camps have been set up around Port-au-Prince, but many people are also fleeing to the countryside and to unaffected rural areas. Since the electrical grid was destroyed by the earthquake, Ms. Daoust states that the current primary concern is the shortage of fuel, which is crucial to running generators that allow medical and other aid teams to operate. Teams of engineers are also in Haiti trying to rebuild water sanitation facilities, because clean water is extremely scarce. Canada has also relaxed immigration requirements to expedite the process for people with families in Canada. The United States has designated Haitians for temporary protected status and also expedited adoption proceedings to get orphans to families as quickly as possible.
The International Committee Red Cross has also set up a website to assist people outside of Haiti who are still trying to reach relatives and family members. As the Red Cross anticipates that rebuilding will take many years to complete, they also desperately in need of assistance and donations from people who are able to help. Their texting campaign has raised $22 million so far. People can continue to contribute by texting “Haiti” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. The Red Cross also welcomes volunteers at local chapters who want to help the relief efforts. More information is on their website.