Q&A: Haiti earthquake

How is Save the Children responding?

Our team on the ground is already assessing the damage. We’re procuring supplies including shelter materials, sanitation kits (containing soaps and detergents), and essential household items (including cooking utensils and blankets).

When will we start distributing aid?

We hope to start delivering supplies by this Friday or Saturday – 15 or 16 January.

What form will our response take?

This will be a major emergency response and will probably include:

  • providing tarpaulins for shelter, and blankets and mats
  • delivering hygiene kits
  • creating safe spaces for children where they can play and spend time properly looked after by trained professionals, who will help them recover from their trauma
  • reuniting children separated from their parents
  • delivering food and clean water
  • building temporary schools, health facilities and toilets.

What problems are we facing?

The island is mountainous, small and densely populated, making movement through the shattered streets very difficult. We’re using motorbikes, as the roads are impassable by car.

There is no electricity in Port-au-Prince making communication difficult. We’re currently communicating via satellite phones.

The airport is closed, hampering the effort to bring in essential supplies. And given the social and political instability in the country, the threat of rioting and looting is considerable.

Our office been damaged and 20 of our staff remain unaccounted for. Their safety is of paramount concern for us.

What are the most pressing humanitarian needs?

Shelter, access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare are of immediate and critical importance to the thousands of people affected. Thousands of children may have lost or been separated from their parents, and desperately need help and protection if they’re living on the streets.

We’re also very worried about the prospect of an outbreak of disease given the lack of clean water or medical help and that so many live close together in Port-au-Prince.

The rate of malnutrition among children is likely to rocket leaving them even more vulnerable to disease. Already one-quarter of children under five in Haiti are chronically malnourished.

How will we work with other relief agencies in Haiti?

As in all our emergency responses, Save the Children will work alongside aid agencies from across the world, in a response coordinated by the UN, to meet the urgent needs of those affected.

Background

  • Officially the population of Port au Prince is 1 million, but the real figure could be as high as 3 million because of the large number of unofficial slums. Very densely populated, the city is built on the side of mountain so the risk of landslides is high.
  • There is huge inequality in Haiti. The poorest people live in the most vulnerable regions in the worst conditions, such as on the steep slopes of the mountains outside Port au Prince. It is feared whole communities fell off these mountain slopes during the quake.
  • There are an estimated 6,800 unaccompanied children begging on the streets of the capital alone. Known as ‘cockroaches’, these children are forced by poverty-stricken families onto the streets to make a living. They’re extremely vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.
  • The cities of Haiti have the biggest slums in the northern hemisphere. They are also among the most densely populated. For example in the slums of St Martin, 50,000 people live in a space 1 kilometre square.
  • There are few roads in these slums, only narrow alleyways through densely packed three- or four-story buildings. In the aftermath of an earthquake, these areas are likely to be impenetrable.
  • Haiti is particularly prone to flooding. The island was deforested to make way for farming. But little can now be grown in nutrient-drained soil and the land is extremely prone to landslides and flooding.
  • There are drainage canals designed to carry water from the mountains around Port au Prince through the city and slums into the sea. These are likely to have been destroyed by the quake and will need to be rebuilt as soon as possible to prevent flooding during the rainy season.
  • Haiti has a history of hundreds of years of violent unrest. It also has a dominant gang culture, particularly in the cities – urban slums in Haiti are effectively under gang control. There’s a high incidence of violent crime. Haiti also has very high rates of drug abuse, prostitution and child trafficking. Unaccompanied children are at risk of abuse.
  • Save the Children has worked in Haiti since 1985, primarily in Port au Prince and the Central Plateau region, providing health, education, protection and food security programmes to vulnerable children.