With security provided by unarmed soldiers from the U.S. Army, CRS began registering people and handing out buckets with food, water and hygiene supplies to a patient crowd that climbed to a high point on the golf course to receive the aid.
Some 20,000 people have been spending their days at the Petionville Club golf course, a number that swelled to 50,000 at night. United Nations personnel decided that this informal situation should be made into a formal camp and asked CRS, which is headquartered nearby and had already carried out some small distributions at the site, to take the lead. Registration and more substantial distributions of aid began Tuesday, a week after the earthquake devastated this region of Haiti.
"We are grateful to the 82nd Airborne for providing security," said Annemarie Reilly, CRS Vice President for Overseas Operations. "This camp at Petionville will provide thousands of Haitians with the relief they so desperately need."
The camp opening came just after CRS and our partner, the University of Maryland School of Medicine Institute of Human Virology (IHV), got one of the oldest hospitals in Haiti back in operation. On Friday, CRS personnel first made it to St. Francois de Sales hospital where CRS and IHV have been working together for years as part of the AIDSRelief consortium. They found the hospital 60 to 70 percent destroyed, the doctors there resorting to using a hammer, a handsaw and their hands to dig through the rubble in search of medical supplies. They were on the verge of shutting down.
But CRS managed to get some emergency rations for the medical staff and fuel and other food for patients. Most importantly, they brought in medical supplies, some provided by the Catholic Medical Mission Board (also an AIDSRelief partner), others by Catholics in the Dominican Republic. CRS recruited volunteers and procured an ambulance. The medical teams—one Haitian, one Italian and one Belgian—moved into one building, which CRS had helped to build, that had not collapsed. The first operation was on Sunday. Eight more followed on Monday. Two operating rooms are open. A third will be added when a tent arrives. The most common operation—limb amputations.
St. Francois will soon be getting referrals from the primary medical centers CRS and IHV are setting up at sites identified by the Haitian Catholic church. Together the two agencies are providing medical and other supplies as well as tents, food and water. Each will be staffed by a doctor and a nurse who come from the various medical teams that have come to Haiti from around the world.
This work goes on as additional CRS personnel arrive in Haiti—supplementing the permanent staff of 300—and supplies continue to come in by air, sea and land. Five CRS trucks from the neighboring Dominican Republic brought in enough food January 17 to feed 2,500 people for several days, as well as hygiene kits and plastic sheeting for shelter. CRS has been distributing these materials, along with food and other supplies at several informal camps and other places where people have gathered after the earthquake.
CRS staff are also working to get the 120 containers of USAID Food for Peace supplies—grains and vegetable oil—from the port so they can be distributed. CRS unloaded the 2,100 metric tons of food—1,500 designated for CRS—that was on its way to Haiti when the earthquake hit. The ship used the one berth still operable in the heavily-damaged port. But damage to Port-au-Prince's roads makes further movement difficult. CRS is working with the U.S. military on transport problems. The food will eventually be used in the large camps for survivors, such as the one CRS is setting up at the Petionville Club golf course.
All of this work is part of a $25 million commitment from CRS for this disaster. To date, CRS has raised $16.5 million in cash and commitments, including a $1 million disaster response donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $225,000 from the New York Yankees baseball team.
Learn more about CRS' response to the earthquake in Haiti.
Michael Hill is CRS' communications officer for sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at the agency's headquarters in Baltimore.