In the aftermath of Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake Tuesday night, a robust humanitarian effort contends with a devastated infrastructure amidst dozens of aftershocks. As hospitals and government buildings lie in ruin, rescuers treat the wounded while the Haitian government embraces the daunting task of identifying countless deceased in and around Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. In the 48 hours following the catastrophe, the Obama administration has taken the lead role in what has snow-balled into a worldwide humanitarian call for help. Haitian-Americans fear the worst as communications with the island country were all but non-existent until deep into Thursday afternoon.
In the city of Brotherly Love, it’s been just that, as non-government organizations expedite the charitable nature of Philadelphians anxious to assist the situation in whatever ways possible. Philly’s own Samuel Dalembert, the only Haitian-born basketball player in the NBA, will be presenting a check for $100,000 to UNICEF Haiti Earthquake Relief at Friday night’s 76ers game.
The Samuel Dalembert Foundation, originally “designed to bring training in sports and personal values to the underprivileged children of Haiti”, has transformed into a humanitarian relief organization virtually overnight. In partnership with UNICEF, American Red Cross and Feed the Children, organizations such as this are conspiring globally in order to help the poorest nation in our hemisphere deal with this calamity of biblical proportions.
President Obama took to the podium Wednesday morning expressing a dedicated, swift and meaningful American response to the tragedy as it continues to unfold.
“For a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible,” President Obama told an emergency press conference at the White House. “I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives. The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble, and to deliver the humanitarian relief -- the food, water and medicine -- that Haitians will need in the coming days.”
In the wake of this latest natural disaster, aid workers are still assessing the extent of death and destruction, while formulating plans for rescue efforts. Helicopters scan roadways, hoping to map out routes for aid supplies to be driven in from the adjacent Dominican Republic.
Several U.S. Southern Command warships were deployed Wednesday, led by the USS Carl Vinson, carrying 2,000 marines and relief supplies to help aid in the crisis. The Urban Search and Rescue Task Force dispatched from Fairfax, Virginia, utilized highly trained search dogs to sniff out survivors. The European Union, Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom have sent similar detachments of emergency personnel to supplement what the president says “truly must be an international effort”. So far, 30 different countries have answered Obama’s call to assistance. A hospital ship is now en route, followed closely by 5,000 U.S. army soldiers.
“We will be resolute in our response, and I pledge to the people of Haiti that you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America today and going forward,” Obama concluded yesterday.
Thursday morning, Obama held another news conference. Having just canceled her Asia trip in response to the tragedy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flanked the president, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Ambassador to the UN Sudan Rice, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. With this symbolic gathering of heavy hitters, the president conveyed an all-hands-on-deck approach moving forward.
Later Thursday afternoon, Obama told a House Democratic caucus retreat, “Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, all the agencies involved, Homeland Security, our FEMA director, they’re all intimately involved in making sure we get in there as quickly as possible to engage in search and rescue, to provide immediate medical attention, and then long-term help with the recovery.”
“My national security team understands that I will not put up with any excuses for us not doing our very best in this time of tragedy,” Obama told reporters.
Corporate America chimed in with public displays of altruism in the form of charitable donations. Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Abbott labs, Lowe’s, Walmart, the New York Yankees, GoDaddy.com, Kellogg’s and Western Union all gave to the effort between $250,000 and $1,000,000 each. A number of companies are matching employee donations to help rescue efforts, and over $4 million has already been donated through a text messaging charity. President Obama has pledged $100 million for immediate relief, but the quest for private assistance looms paramount.
As dead bodies line the streets, death toll estimates by Haitian officials range from Haitian President Rene Preval, who puts the number around 50,000, to the Haitian Consul General’s figure of 100,000, to the Haitian Prime Minister’s “several hundred thousand”. Red Cross estimates for deceased earthquake victims hovered between 40,000 and 50,000, but as rubble is still being removed, definitive data are as of yet unavailable.
Rush Limbaugh gave his usual nonsensical, vitriolic, racially-tinged rhetoric saying, “everything this president sees is a political opportunity, including Haiti, and he will use it to burnish his credibility with both the light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It’s made to order for him.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on the other hand, offered bipartisan solidarity, confident “that the generosity of the American people will be what it so regularly is in these tragedies — an inspiring expression of responsibility and benevolence. I appreciate the administration’s immediate response to this crisis and that of our partners around the world.”
Keeping with the theme of political unification, President Obama asked former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to “team up” in Haiti. Clinton, already UN Special Envoy to Haiti, was joined by Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, while responding to the tsunami of 2004.
He pressured the international community to generate a bountiful and timely response to this crisis. "What Haiti needs most is money for water, food, shelter and basic medical supplies to bring immediate relief to those who are homeless, hungry and hurt," Clinton asserted.
The United Nations Stabilization Unit in Haiti has been in place since Aristide was ousted from power in 2004. The impoverished conditions on the ground there were perilous prior to this predicament, as this country has struggled to self-sustain since its very inception. A corrupt and bankrupt government spent the last few years battling elevated hurricane activity exacerbated by rampant deforestation, already having shredded Haiti’s low-budget infrastructure. As Americans dig deep into their lint-filled, recessionary pockets, they seem to be kicking in for what is truly the worthiest of causes.
Listed below are ways and websites for helping out, locally, nationally and internationally. Americans and the global community will hopefully continue their collective efforts of financial and logistical support for our devastated neighbor to the south, as this particular breed of catastrophe requires a quick, concerted and costly solution.
Philadelphia-area organizations assisting rescue efforts in Haiti:
The Haiti Rescue Fund - P.O. Box 12421 - Philadelphia, PA 19151
Elise Joseph Foundation - P.O. Box 12595 - Philadelphia, PA 19151
Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia - 308 Hedgerow Lane - Wyncote, PA 19095
Hope Alive! Clinic Ministries in Haiti - P.O. Box 964 - Medford, NJ 08055
International NGOs assisting in Haiti:
Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders)
Donations of medical supplies, water, non-perishable food items, cots, tents and children's items such as diapers, baby wipes, clothes and bottles can be dropped off at:
The Office of State Senator Leanna M. Washington
1555-A Wadsworth Avenue
The Office of State Representative Vanessa Brown
4706 Westminster Avenue
Doctors and nurses interested in traveling to Haiti to help should contact:
Yve-Car Momperousse at (973) 280-2307
Donations of $10 can be made via cellular phone by texting "Haiti" to #90999.
Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti can contact the State Department: (888) 407-4747.