Haiti: Providing basic services

Already present in Haiti, Handicap International was able to react rapidly in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake, which hit the country Tuesday night.

The association released $217,657 (€150,000) in funding Wednesday and will provide support for the team, which manages interagency humanitarian aid distribution logistics in the country. The team's top priority now is to provide immediate care for the injured.

The earthquake, which hit Haiti yesterday evening at 4:53 pm local time, was the worst to hit the region in the last 200 years. With its epicenter situated 10 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince (2 million inhabitants), the number of victims is expected to run into the hundreds, or even thousands.

Handicap International will provide care to those injured by the earthquake and its aftershocks, including support to hospitals for essential post-surgery and rehabilitation care, as well as emergency shelter, emergency basic needs and food distribution for at least 5,000 people initially. An emergency response team comprised of at least 10 individuals, both physical therapists and logisticians will depart for Haiti imminently and will coordinate the distribution of approximately one ton of equipment and emergency supplies.

Large numbers of buildings were destroyed, including the house where Handicap International's five expatriate staff members live. They are all fortunately safe, although profoundly shocked by the extent of the disaster and the number of aftershocks that were felt. At this point, the 100 Haitian staff members working with the association are unaccounted for due to the difficulties in communication and transport.

Telephone lines and electricity supplies were cut off and rubble is blocking the roads, preventing any movement by vehicles. Handicap International's head of mission in Haiti spoke of scenes of chaos: Mass destruction, the dead and injured lying in the streets, looted shops and petrol stations on fire. People everywhere are looking for friends and family members. Most inhabitants have no access to food and water. The numerous aftershocks have forced the population to seek refuge outside of the buildings left standing. 

Since the end of 2008, Handicap International has managed a fleet of 45 all-purpose trucks in partnership with the World Food Program, which are used to distribute humanitarian aid to areas to which access is severely limited following the hurricanes in 2008.

Handicap International has considerable experience in providing emergency aid when earthquakes and other natural disasters strike. Most recently, the association responded to the devastating earthquakes in Sichuan, China, and northern Pakistan by providing physiotherapy, emergency medical care and helping set up long-term rehabilitation services.