• The San Juan Daily Star

Haiti scrambles to coordinate aid response after earthquake

By Constant Méheut

Authorities in Haiti were scrambling to coordinate their response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake Saturday, mindful of the confusion that followed a devastating quake in 2010, when delays in distributing aid to hundreds of thousands of people worsened the death toll.

“We learned from the 2010 earthquake,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said at a news conference Saturday, adding that to facilitate coordination, all aid would go through a single operation center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

In a statement, Paul Farmer, a physician and co-founder of the relief agency Partners in Health, who has long worked in Haiti, said the hospitals that it oversees had largely improved their emergency capacities and protocols in the past decade.

“They can do more, and faster, than back then, and will be counting on all of us for the pragmatic solidarity they deserve,” Farmer wrote.

More than 700 people have been confirmed killed in the country’s southwest, according to the latest figures provided by Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, while an untold number were missing, raising fears that they have been trapped under piles of concrete slabs from buildings flattened by the earthquake.

The agency added that hundreds of homes had been destroyed and damaged, as well as many health centers, schools, offices and churches.

“The most important thing is to recover as many survivors as possible under the rubble,” Henry, who declared a one-month state of emergency, said Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

“The needs are enormous. We must take care of the injured and fractured but also provide food, aid, temporary shelter and psychological support,” he added.

Several hospitals in unaffected areas quickly provided assistance, responding to calls for solidarity that proliferated on social networks.

The State University of Haiti Hospital, based in Port-au-Prince, sent doctors to the southwest, while the relief agency Zanmi Lasante, which runs several hospitals and works with Partners in Health, said on Twitter that it was working with its partners, preparing for an influx of patients.

On Saturday, the country’s ministry of public health said in a message posted on Facebook that it was “in urgent need of blood for the victims” and called on people to donate blood to prevent a shortage because so many people are expected to need treatment.

In 2010, the earthquake destroyed the National Blood Transfusion Center in Port-au-Prince, leaving the country in dire need of blood bags, which delayed surgeries and caused more deaths and amputations.

Since then, according to a 2016 study, Haiti has scaled up its blood drives, exceeding pre-earthquake levels as soon as 2012 and increasing regional collections in order to reduce dependence on Port-au-Prince.

Sending the much-needed aid to the hardest-hit sites — about 125 miles away, in the southwest of the country — will be a challenge in itself. Gang activity around Port-au-Prince has made traveling on the roads dangerous, and possible flooding and damage from Tropical Storm Grace, expected to hit Haiti on Monday, could complicate relief efforts.

On Saturday, gangs that control the highway linking the southern peninsula to the rest of Haiti declared a truce for humanitarian reasons, allowing aid to flow to devastated areas.

Henry said that police forces and other means were “mobilized so that this aid that we want to send to our brothers and sisters in difficulty can arrive.”

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