CARICOM RESCUE EFFORTS

Guyana's President Irfaan Ali addresses the media during a joint news conference with Suriname's President Chandrikapersad Santokhi (not pictured), Nov. 24, 2020.
REUTERS/Ranu Abhelak/Fileh, file

Already signaling it has limited resources, the umbrella Caribbean disaster response agency Wednesday readied a team to head to earthquake-devastated Haiti and the umbrella Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) said it was also on standby to help the regional bloc’s most populous member country as rescue efforts heightened and as residents sleep in the open for fear of smaller quakes.

At the start of the week, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) had said it was ready to fly experts to Haiti to help with relief coordination efforts but those were stymied by the passage of Tropical Storm Grace which dumped tons of rain on the island as Haiti endures another natural disaster on top of a string of unfortunate events in recent years.

Haiti which shares the island of Hispaniola with The Dominican Republic, was hit by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake at the weekend. Authorities have listed the death toll so far at just over 2,000 and have pointed to the destruction of nearly 14,000 buildings mostly in the southwestern parts of the country.

The quake struck even as the nation of nearly 10 million people was still smarting from a similarly strong earthquake back in 2010 which had killed more than 200,000 people. Last week’s tragedy came about a month after Colombian mercenaries stormed President Jovenel Moise’s private residence, assassinating him even as the island is functioning without several state institutions including its parliament. The quake now means that the limited brigade of medical personnel on the island will have to shift their focus from containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic to treating the sick and injured from the quake.

In the meantime, CDEMA said the Haitian government had made a formal request for assistance from the Caribbean Community, asking specifically for help at the national emergency coordination center.

Director Liz Riley said all systems are being readied. “We are making the necessary arrangements to get those human resources on the ground as soon as possible following the passage of Tropical Storm, now Tropical Depression Grace. In the aftermath of the event, we have activated our coordination center and coordination for the provision of support to Haiti has commenced in collaboration with Jamaica, which is the lead for our north-western sub region of the CDEMA system.”

The United Kingdom through its Foreign and Commonwealth office is also lining up to ensure CDEMA has resources to function and even distribute, while the Barbados-based regional bank is collaborating with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Caribbean Donor Partner Group on assistance to Haiti.

As the bloc pledged full support for Haiti, a number of countries including Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and The Bahamas have said they are willing to send relief aid to Haiti but are anxiously awaiting a needs assessment report from Port Au Prince.

For example, Guyanese President, Irfaan Ali reported Tuesday that he had reached out to Haitian Prime Minister, Ariel Henry for an update and he “indicated that an assessment is being done to ascertain the extent of the impact of the earthquake, and to identify the critical areas of need. Dr. Henry also said that the assessment report will be shared with President Ali and CARICOM as soon as it has been completed,” a Guyanese government statement said.

So far several mayors in the south and southwestern affected districts said hundreds of people are still trapped under rubble and heavy equipment is badly needed to help rescue efforts. Additionally, there is a need for 30,000 tents. The Haitian Times newspaper reported this week that 16 people had been pulled alive from rubble at a building that had once housed the UN in Les Cayes. Nine others were pronounced dead by officials.

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