Heifer Haiti director: Assistance arriving, but many grieving

This is a first-person account of the situation in Haiti, from Justin Alce, Heifer International interim country director for Haiti:

Les Cayes, Haiti, January 19, 2010
“Today, January 19, eight days after the earthquake, it is said that more than 70,000 people have been buried, over 200,000 are unaccounted for and more than two million more have been affected. More than 30,000 people have arrived in Les Cayes from Port-au-Prince. Among the deceased and disappeared are government officials, the chief of the United Nations Mission in Haiti, police officers and clergy personnel. The majority of the state offices are damaged or destroyed. All the health centers in the country have exceeded their capacity. The most important jail in the capital city was destroyed and all inmates escaped. The detention center in the south is under the same circumstances, which adds an additional worry for safety to the feelings of grief and despair in the population.

“Many countries have shown their solidarity with the Haitian people and are sending aid in any possible way. The United States, France, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Venezuela and others, have sent search and rescue personnel, money, food and water, medical personnel and medical supplies, military personnel, etc. The United States sent over 10,000 military personnel to guarantee safety among the population and aid in food distribution. Despite having reached a shelter, many people continue to go out seeking assistance to pull somebody out of the rubble, remove bodies to avoid diseases, or to bring food and water. The main problem is the lack of order (in aid distribution).

“State and private institutions are almost shut down. The judiciary offices, schools, universities, banks and retail operations are paralyzed. Shopping centers are closed and therefore items of first necessity have doubled in price. It is extremely difficult to get fuel, which forced the Southern Regional government to declare a state of emergency.”

“In this tragedy, the majority of the Haitian families have lost at least one relative. It is no different for Heifer staff in the country. Our accountant/administrator has lost a sister. Our administrative assistant lost several cousins. Our Southern field technician lost one relative. Our Northern zone coordinator lost family members. Our Northern zone technician has one cousin unaccounted for, and I have lost a cousin.

“We don’t have information from all our partners. The Farmer Organization from Saut Mathurine (OPS) reported 10 houses damaged or destroyed. A member of AIFO in Peti Goave lost his home, while the majority of houses in the  Christianville Foundation Fish Ministries in Gressier are badly damaged. Just like all the other Haitian families, our partner organizations are grieving the loss of their family members.

“Although this information might seem to be devastating, what we know is only preliminary information.”