Saturday January 12th 2013 commemorated three (3) years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Twelve (12) days later, at least 52 aftershocks were recorded. It was estimated that over 300,000 lost their lives, 1,000,000 made homeless, countless injured, infrastructure destroyed. As the rest of the Caribbean and the world looked on in shocked horror, bodies were piled and buried in old graves and at mass grave sites. Max Beauvoir, a Vodou priest, protested the lack of dignity in mass burials, stating, “… it is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion, it is desecration” (Wikipedia).
Geologically minded folk put forth their explanations for the cause of the tragedy, while those of religious persuasion reflected on the role of Haitian vodou in causing yet another disaster over the Haitian landscape. For us in the Caribbean, we bemoaned Haiti’s fate. How could such a thing happen in our own backyard? The international community swung into action and predictably every major multilateral organisation, developed country, association, club and individual got involved. The power of human compassion was indeed evident.
What is less known, is the Caribbean’s role in the Haitian Caribbean disaster response. The following extract is taken from Press Release 63/2010 issued on 9 February 2010 by the CARICOM Secretariat:
(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) More than 300 persons from eleven Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States and Associate Members have so far been involved in the response to the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January.
The Region’s initial response was spearheaded by Jamaica, the sub-regional focal point with responsibility for the northern geographic zone of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) which includes Haiti among its five countries. CDEMA is the regional response mechanism for natural disasters.
Personnel from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, The Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands along with Jamaica form the CARICOM Contingent which has been providing support in seven areas after the initial search and rescue, medical, security and engineering teams had been supplied by Jamaica within 48 hours of the earthquake.
CARICOM’s continuing interventions in Haiti include: Emergency Response Coordination; Medical Assistance; Logistics, inclusive of the distribution of relief supplies and engineers assessments; Security; CARICOM Civilian Evacuation and Resource Mobilisation. The Region’s interventions have stretched outside of the capital to locations such as Killick, Leogane, Archaie, Montrouis, lle de la Gonave and Gonaives.
The Emergency Response Coordination was primarily to deliver critical technical support to Haiti while establishing an in-country base camp for a CARICOM-coordinated operation. In the week following the quake, CDEMA had deployed a Tactical Advance Party (TAP) to meet with the Cabinet Minister of the Interior Ministry, Mr. Pierre Andre Paul to discuss Haiti’s immediate needs and to ascertain how CARICOM could assist. Against this backdrop, a Special Coordinator, Brigadier General (Ret) Earl Arthurs of Belize, was appointed to ensure that CARICOM’s response on the ground was effective and to establish a link between CDEMA and Haitian officials as well as international agencies and countries involved in the relief effort.
Grief, shock, horror, a sense of hopelessness and renewed faith in the power of prayer. These are just a few of the emotions described to me by my friend Lydia* (name changed) as we sat on a bed ten (10) months later and relived her experience as forever etched in her memories.
In the next article of my Haitian memoir, we will follow one unique Trinidad and Tobago NGO that was able to overcome logistical challenges and send disaster relief teams & supplies to Haiti – even as many international organisations were still planning their method of intervention.
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