Tag Archives: emergency

At what price security in Haiti?

Caritas sets up a mobile basic health clinic in Leogane, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. UN Peacekeepers help with the unloading and provide the security. Credit: Katie Orlinsky/ Caritas 2010

By Conor O’Loughlin, Communications Officer for Trocaire (Caritas Ireland)

Haiti has a soundtrack. Before the earthquake, Port-au-Prince swelled with the noise of two million people in a city that could comfortably accommodate probably one quarter of them. Then on January 12 the air exploded with the deep bass of the earth itself on the move. Then the screams and laments, the orchestra of the damned. The next day was quiet. People were too dazed and shocked.

On the first night after the disaster people started to sing. On the streets, in groups, afraid to go back indoors, they prayed and sang by candlelight. They sang for a better tomorrow because their yesterdays had failed so spectacularly to given them anything to sing for.

Now, more than two weeks later, the urban cacophony has returned. Clapped out cars jostle for space and attention on the roads. Cockerels seem to inhabit every patch of grass ensuring that nobody in this city can sleep much past 5am. People – so many people – are back on the streets, selling their wares at the tops of their voices.

But there is a new sound here now. One that makes the air vibrate almost continuously in a way that makes you think the much-feared second earthquake could be upon us. It is the constant thump of low flying military helicopters delivering aid and personnel all over the city.

There is no question that the logistical might of the United States Marines is impressive. They have mobilised aircraft, boats and vehicles with incredible speed. They have succeeded in delivering tons of urgent food and medical supplies to the stricken people of Haiti.

Caritas itself has benefited from both the US military and UN peacekeepers, who have provided security for aid distributions in Port-au-Prince and Leogane and helped our aid ships dock. We’re immensely grateful for that.

But military personnel are not aid experts and having such a large military presence brings with it tensions. Continue reading

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To Live and Die in Haiti

A destroyed building and car in Port-au-Prince. Credit: Katie Orlinsky/Caritas 2010.

By Conor O’Loughlin, Communications Officer for Trocaire/Caritas Ireland, in Port-au-Prince

On a seaside road winding north of Port-au-Prince, two cars separate us from a brightly-painted bus trundling along the dusty strip of gravel. One by one they overtake the bus, their white roofs carrying with them a white burst of sunshine in the midday heat.

We move closer to the back of the bus, slowly changing gears, and get to within a few metres before we saw it. Him.

There was a man. Dangling. Wedged between the back door of the bus and the ladder that carries luggage and the occasional passenger to sit on the roof.

His head and his arms were limp and his feet were dragging and bumping grotesquely along the road.

Someone in the car with me screamed. The driver pushed his fist into the car’s horn to try to attract the bus driver’s attention. I rolled down my back window, hoisted myself up onto the sill of the door and started waving frantically at the passengers on the roof. They saw me but didn’t seem to react. I shouted and screamed at them but my noise was lost in the backward rushing air.

We pulled alongside the driver and he looked at us but ignored my signal to pull over. Pulling back into the right lane we slowed down and the bus eventually stopped. We all jumped out and raced to the back. The man was still there. His eyes closed; his forehead dented against the yellow paint of the bus.

We lifted him out of his entanglement and lowered him gently onto the road. We tried to look for signs of life. There were none. Continue reading

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Haiti’s orphaned children

Children at a Caritas orphanage outside of Port-au-Prince await their food supplies by Caritas member CRS. Photo: Conor O'Loughlin/CARITAS

By Conor O’Loughlin, Communications Officer for Trocaire, in Port-au.Prince

East of Port-au-Prince, things are calmer than in the city. The massive overcrowding of the capital is much less on show here and even the destruction seems lesser. But then, there are fewer houses here.

It is a peaceful place; smallholdings with banana plants and chickens stand on the roadside. But the aftermath of January 12 lingers here, too. Most houses have sustained damage of some variety; every third or fourth has been completely demolished.

A small orphanage sits among the scrub at end of a stony lane, found only by following the lead of a rusty, hand-painted sign directing us to the ‘orphelinat‘.

When the earthquake struck, their headmistress tells us, all of the children were in an upstairs room of their house watching a documentary “about how children live in France”. Then the building started to shake.

“The bigger children grabbed the smaller children and ran down the stairs”, she told us.

Seconds later, the whole building collapsed. Looking at it now, buckled and angry looking in the midday sun, it is a miracle nobody was hurt. The two floors of the school building, across a small yard now littered with debris and shards of their former life, is also completely fell. Inside the rubble there can be seen a smashed blackboard, the last day’s lesson still lingering, the broken desks strewn drunkenly amid the rubble.

Caritas has worked with this orphanage for some time, providing the nuns with the food necessary to feed 55 children. But since the earthquake, more children have come. In fact, the number of children at the orphelinat is now 96.

“Many children have come,” we are told by their carer. “People from all around have brought us children that they have found. We don’t know where they have come from or where their parents are.” Continue reading

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Haiti quake: protecting the vulnerable

Brothers at Petionville camp in Port-au-Prince, which receives aid from Caritas. Credit Conor O'Loughlin Caritas/2010

By Conor O’Loughlin, Communications Officer, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) Port-au-Prince

There is a pervasive narrative around the crisis in Haiti about levels of chaos and violence in Port-au-Prince hampering the delivery of aid. But as the United Nations’ humanitarian aid chief John Holmes points out, “every disaster is chaos because that’s what disasters produce”.

Experience has taught us that in crisis situations such as this, the weaker voices in society, already vulnerable to abuse, become more so – including women, children, the elderly and the infirm. Aid is getting through (Caritas alone has already fed well over 100,000 people since the earthquake struck) and now as we slowly move towards the recovery phase, a new set of concerns come to the fore.

As the dust begins to settle here in Haiti and we get a better picture of where the relief effort goes now, we need to think beyond simply meeting basic needs – food will not keep communities safe from abuse and water will not protect them from violence.

In addition to the devastating death toll, hundreds of thousands of families are now displaced from their homes, the vast majority staying in insecure informal camps and shelters. Weapons are widely available. People’s means of earning a living have been largely destroyed. Family members have been separated, with loved ones still missing, including the heads of many households, leaving young children and vulnerable family members to fend for themselves.

As the world continues to help the beleaguered Haitians, the aid community is focusing on work beyond relief distributions alone. Food will not keep communities safe from abuse and water will not protect them from violence.
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Haiti quake: the original humanitarians

Sr Eileen Davey walks in her parish with some children from her nutrition and education programme. 'You may go out by yourself,' she says, 'but you never come home alone.' Photo: Conor O'Loughlin/Caritas

By Conor O’Loughlin, Communications Officer, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) Port-au-Prince

In a small brick house under the shadow of the church of Louis Marie de Montfort church in Port-au-Prince live three nuns.

The house is by the airport and the constant thumping of helicopters overhead provides a disconcerting soundtrack to the searing heat.

The three nuns have lived here for a long time and devote their time to the poor people of the neighbourhood.

“People are very poor here,” says Sr Helen Ryder, a sister of the La Sainte Union order from Co. Offaly in Ireland. “There are poorer, but then in Haiti there is always someone poorer.”

Her colleague, Sr Maria Hawkes from Cork, spoke of the moment the earthquake struck: “I was in my room at about 4.45 in the evening. Just sitting by my bed reading a book. Suddenly I became aware of the wall shaking. I got up quickly. My bed was moving across the room. The cabinet above my  sink popped open.”

They knew immediately that this was a major disaster.

“It was very sad to see, like a pack of cards, all the houses flattened. We went over to an open space and we didn’t return until the next morning. We lay on the ground that night. When there was tremors you could feel them in your spine.”
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Peru hit by floods and landslides

The Caritas Cusco team are responding to floods and landslides, getting aid to those in need.


Read this entry in Spanish

Torrential rains have caused a state of emergency in Cusco and Apurimac in Peru with floods and landslides affecting over 2000 people.

Buildings have collapsed and road and rail transport has been seriously affected. Much of the province of Anta has been seriously hit by the flooding.

Part of the area is home to the Machu Picchu Incan ruins, and the floods have trapped both tourists and residents. The government has declared a 60 day state of emergency.

Archbishop Juan Antonio Ugarte Pérez of Cusco called for prayers for the residents.“We need to organize ourselves to confront the emergency together,” he said.
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Carmen Charles: Haiti will live again.

Carmen Charles and her family survived the earthquake and are now receiving help from Caritas. Credit Conor O'Loughlin/Caritas 2010

Available in Spanish

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) in Port-au-Prince

The camp is chaos. What little grass remains has been tramped down by the tens of thousands of homeless, most of it churned by now churned to dust and floating around the stifling air.

Two weeks ago this camp was a golf course, one of the few escapes of Haiti’s well-to-do. A lot has changed in two weeks.

50,000 people live here during the day now, and by night as many as 100,000 crowd together in huts made of ripped curtains and plastic sacks. There are few facilities. The noise is deafening – the public volume of every day living but mixed in are the occasional sobs of the injured or the alone, the hyperactive squawking of stray dogs or the constant fly over of helicopters delivering aid to another desperate part of this stricken city.
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