Health sector best option for CARICOM aid to Haiti

CARICOM Secretariat, Guyana – The danger posed by injuries and the anticipated outbreak of disease in Haiti and the Community’s capacity to respond informed the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) decision to focus mainly on health in Port au Prince, the Secretary-General His Excellency Edwin Carrington said on Friday.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) are collaborating with the Community in this regard.

“The danger of contamination… and diseases like dysentery and cholera… makes health one of the critically needed areas… and we felt that we had some capacity in that area,” the Secretary-General told the media.

Representatives of the media throughout the region were linked to the Georgetown-based CARICOM Secretariat via videoconferencing and live webcasting for the press encounter geared at apprising the Region of the Community’s coordinated response to the devastation in Haiti after a massive earthquake struck on 12 January 2010. It flattened Port-au-Prince and casualties were heavy.

Mr. Jeremy Collymore, Executive Director General of the CARICOM Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) told the press conference from Barbados that in addition to medical teams on the ground, emergency supplies of water, emergency blankets and other health components were moved into Haiti.

Jamaica was at the forefront of the Community’s response to the disaster and Mr. Collymore pointed out that it had rendered invaluable support to the relief exercise.

Ambasaador Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary-General Foreign and Community Relations said that on the ground in Port-au-Prince, the United Nations has the security portfolio and is coordinating the relief operations there while responsibility for geographic areas has been allocated to countries depending on their capacity and resources.

He said that the United States was responsible for Port au Prince, while Canada was in charge of the west and southwest of the country.

Underscoring the need for coordination and experience to respond to a disaster of this magnitude and the “extreme chaos” that existed following the 7.3 earthquake, the Secretary-General acknowledged that the situation was too large for the Caribbean Community or any single country alone to respond. Mr. Carrington pointed out that it was a situation about which the Community had no prior experience.

“Everyone is trying their best in the circumstances… but it is not perfect,” he said.

Ambassador Granderson added that the disaster was one of the largest in recent memory and a most complex one, given the fact that a large portion of the capital was destroyed and communication was virtually non-existent. He pointed out that while there was a government and cabinet in place in Haiti, it was extremely difficult to locate their members

The Presidential Palace and government ministries were among the buildings which collapsed and public servants were among the casualties. His Excellency Rene Preval, President of Haiti now operates out of an office in a Police Station.

“In many respects, it was a perfect storm,” Ambassador Granderson said, and added, “There are tremendous bottlenecks…; it is a major, major problem.”

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