Almost two months after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake and a hurricane compounded Haiti’s woes, Catholic aid agencies are struggling to help get people back on their feet.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Malteser International Americas, and Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) are working in the south of the country to provide clean water and rebuild homes and schools.
“Three departments [provinces] were affected by the earthquake, and around 73,000 families,” said Michael Augustin, Catholic Relief Services’ emergency coordinator for Haiti, said in an interview.
“We are still in hurricane season, so we are providing tarps and shelter materials, as we are working on much more durable shelters,” Augustin said.
He said that he feels the country is transitioning from the immediate post-earthquake needs of food, water, psychological support, and non-food items. “Since it’s been over a month since the earthquake, the priorities are starting to change,” Augustin said.
An important part of the response is promotion of good hygiene, since many people still do not have access to safe drinking water. Water supplies were interrupted when the earthquake caused landslides into certain rivers and streams, cutting off their flow. CRS is providing water treatment tablets and teaching people about the danger of drinking non-potable water.
Malteser, the aid agency under the auspices of the Order of Malta, is focusing on rehabilitating damaged schools.
“I think one of the big concerns that they were having was that school children wouldn’t return to school because of all the trauma they were having,” said Malteser spokeswoman Sara Villoresi, in an interview.
“One of its components is rehabilitating school buildings, hoping it would attract students to go there, and part of that is a mental health component, because the difference between [the massive earthquake in 2010] and now is that the epicentre was in rural areas, so many people, old and young, had never experienced this kind of trauma. Part of the incentivising to return to school was to have psychosocial support for about 1,500 kids and 30 teachers in five different schools.”
Catholic Medical Mission Board, which has worked in Haiti for a century, responded immediately to the August 14 quake with a shipment of medical supplies, including antibiotics, pain killers, antiseptic medications, orthopaedic supplies, and bandages.
The day after the quake, the organisation sponsored a local team of two orthopaedic surgeons and five anaesthesiologists to provide surgeries.
CMMB provides medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and unequal access to healthcare.
In a September 14 interview with Catholic News Agency, Dr Dianne Jean-François, CMMB’s programme director for Haiti, said the organisation was working with local priests and sisters.
“With the sisters and the priests, we will move forward, identifying the kind of infrastructure, a home that will be adapted to respond to any hurricane with winds of 150 kilometres and an earthquake of the same magnitude we had,” Jean-François said.
“The Church is present practically everywhere in the country,” said Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, during a recent webinar sponsored by Caritas International. Cardinal Langlois had been injured during the quake.
“Wherever you look around the country — where poverty is rife, where violence is spreading, where catastrophes take place — the Church is present, and the Church is a first responder.”
(Adapted from Aleteia.org)