2010 Haiti earthquake
Haiti Earthquake - CBM in Port-au-Prince
- © CBM
CBM together with international partners supports activities to assist persons with disabilities affected by the earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath.
The following report was produced by Michiel Steenbeek and Marieke Dreise, co-workers active in emergency response for CBM in Haiti. In it, they talk about the situation of persons with disabilities affected by the earthquake and its aftermath.
CBM’s emergency coordinator has been here in Haiti since 4 days after the earthquake. She has done an incredible amount of work, visiting some of the CBM partner organisations and coordinating the emergency response with different NGOs.
The city of Port-au-Prince is in a mess. About 50 per cent of the buildings have collapsed or are severely damaged and beyond repair. Some parts of the capital look like Berlin at the end of World War II. In nearby Leogane, about 90 per cent of the buildings collapsed. In most cases, the ground floor of multi-storey buildings has completely disappeared while the concrete slabs of the higher levels are sandwiched on top of each other. Indeed, you had a higher chance of survival if you were on the top floor. Some streets smell like an abattoir. Walking or driving in some areas and seeing all the damage clearly affects us, too.
The acute phase is now all but over: the people who are still under the rubble are dead, the injured have had their emergency treatment and most surgical teams are pulling out. Now the phase of recovery and rehabilitation starts. An incredible amount of work lies ahead.
At the UN Logistical compound, an operations centre has been created. I don’t know where to start to describe this.
Just a few key words: big white tents, clusters of health, logistics, communication, water, shelter, protection, nutrition, food distribution, ‘blitz’ meetings of 45 minutes, action points and implementation, about 300 hundred organisations represented, aeroplanes landing, helicopters, noise, wind and steaming hot, wireless internet, canteen, coffee and meals, boxes-pallets and crates, tankers with water, trucks with food, blue helmets and camouflage uniforms, sweat and plastic water bottles.
CBM is in the Health cluster and also participates in the Protection Cluster (child protection).
The WHO and the Ministry of Health have asked Handicap International and CBM, together with the 'Secretariat d’état de integration de personnes handicapees', to lead a special working group on injury, rehabilitation and disability, which is now operational. Within this group another working group for prostheses and orthoses has been organised, bringing together organisations making orthotic aids and prostheses and organisations needing those for their patients.
CBM has regular coordination meetings with the clusters and the working groups. These meetings are very short, to the point and aim at quick and effective solutions and implementation. Next week we will open the CBM country office and the first short-time expatriate physiotherapists will arrive.
The hospital is full of patients who need postoperative treatment. The hospital needed to create space inside and many patients are now in tents outside on the parking and driveway waiting to be discharged. But where can they go? Many have lost their house and they can only go back to a heap of rubble. Before discharge they need wheelchairs, crutches and other walking aids, of which we do not have enough. There are hardly physiotherapists in the country, so they need to be recruited from outside. Handicap International and CBM are doing that. The first physiotherapist for CBM will arrive on Sunday and soon more will follow.
We have seen situations where patients have been discharged without proper walking appliances and instructions for weight bearing, essential for good bone healing. We also see infected stumps, and stumps that need to undergo surgery again at a higher level. We can only do so much. It is a desperate situation for many of these patients. But the few that did get some attention appreciate it if you spend some time with them, exercise with them, and make them actually stand up and walk with crutches or a walking frame. A glimmer of hope and a smile to say “see you tomorrow”.
I think that is what we have to focus on and get our satisfaction from, not look too much at the overwhelming numbers of injured people, which is too depressing. We need to look at the ones that we can help, that one individual. That person who we can make smile, because suddenly, after days laying on a mat on the floor in a boiling hot tent, realizes that he can walk with crutches and sit outside on a chair in the shade of a tree.
There are around 590 camps now in town. CBM has been to several of them. Some camps are quite organised, for example in a mission compound, while other camps have sprung up completely spontaneously, with people making tents out of any material they could find. The smell around one of the biggest camps near the collapsed presidential palace is almost unbearable, with refuse hardly collected and very few portable latrines.
It is unimaginable what a task it is to clear all the rubble. More and more you see groups of youngsters trying to move rubble, in a food or cash-for-work program of USAID and other organizations, but they hardly have tools. Everyday again we look in amazement at the destruction; big concrete buildings collapsed as if they were made of cardboard.
Another CBM partner, the School for Special Education, also had their buildings damaged and declared unsafe and equipment was looted. Fortunately the children were not in the buildings at the time of the earthquake, but one staff member lost both her legs while she was at home. The other staff members want to get back to work, but cannot as there is no building anymore. They almost begged whether they could be involved in some projects that CBM is now setting up. They will be involved in working in the Day Care Centres and the Antennes. It will help them to get over their trauma. Also, for the lady with the amputated legs, there will be a job somewhere in the program.
These will also work in about 20 different hospitals in the city to meet the needs for post-operative treatment and follow-up. Local staff will be employed; some 42 community workers have already been recruited by Handicap International and CBM will interview groups of nurses for the Antennes.
CBM has been going to some hospitals to discuss whether they agree to have our big tents in their compound for the Antenne. Some hospitals however still have their compounds full with tents with patients, so there we will have to wait. Two Antennes have been opened and next week more will follow. Besides that we are starting with Child Day Care centres for children with disabilities, who are especially vulnerable in emergency situations. Their parents do not have time to look after them because they are looking for food, water, shelter and work, so the children are in danger of being neglected. If the parents can bring them to the Day Care Centre they will have their hands free during the day to try and care for the family.