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Haiti Month One: Food for Half A Million

By Michael Hill

As Haiti paused to mark the one-month anniversary of the earthquake that devastated its capital city of Port-au-Prince, Catholic Relief Services reached our own milestone—providing food to a half-million people in the country. CRS donors continue to demonstrate their care for the people of Haiti, giving or pledging $60.4 million for relief operations. Now attention is turning to providing shelter as the rainy season looms a month or so away.

Food distribution in Port-au-Prince

Catholic Relief Services delivered tons of World Food Program rice—supplied by the U.S. Agency for International Development—to Haitians at a camp for displaced people in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

During a three-day period of prayer beginning February 12, Haitians across the country took time to observe the one-month marker. Singing could be heard across the city, coming from formal and makeshift churches, from camps and settlements, from people walking to and from prayer services, and even from the CRS offices where a handful of Haitian staff members worked over the weekend.

CRS distributed emergency shelter kits—waterproof sheeting, lumber and nails—to an estimated 6,500 families (about 32,500 people) at the Petionville golf course, where close to 50,000 people now live under sheets and other materials that will be useless as protection once the rainy season begins in March. The week of February 15, CRS will be distributing 10,000 more of these shelter kits to families in smaller camps and settlements, and at Champ de Mars, the grassy area in front of the heavily damaged government buildings in the center of Port-au-Prince.

Even as we undertake these distributions, CRS personnel are at work on more substantial—if still temporary—solutions to the housing problem, identifying sites more suitable for camps and employing designs for improved accommodations.

Work on health projects continues at St. Francois de Sales Hospital, which CRS helped get up and running in the days after the quake. The hospital sees a steady rotation of doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland conducting up to 20 operations a day. CRS and the University of Maryland are both members of the AIDSRelief consortium that had been working at St. Francois de Sales treating patients with HIV prior to the earthquake.

CRS has also set up teams of doctors, nurses and practitioners to run nine health sites across the city, some in informal camps, others in clinics.

CRS water and sanitation workers are busy with various activities—developing radio spots on ways to avoid disease, getting proper sanitation services installed at St. Francois de Sales, beginning the installation of 400 latrines at the Champ de Mars site, as well as planning several other projects.

CRS reached the half-million mark by feeding people in many different ways. In the first few days after the January 12 quake, we handed out emergency supplies that were already in place in a warehouse in Les Cayes—a Haitian town on the southern coast that did not suffer great damage in the quake—and in neighboring Dominican Republic. They were ready for use in the event of a hurricane, but instead fed victims of the 7.0-magnitude quake.

Though the port in Port-au-Prince was heavily damaged, CRS was able to unload a shipment of supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Food for Peace program. Once we had trucked the shipment out over hastily repaired roads that the quake had rendered impassable, a voucher system was set up at the massive camp for displaced people at the Petionville Club. Some 50,000 people got enough food for two weeks. The distribution went so smoothly, the system was adopted for use by all the agencies handing out food.

The World Food Program divided Port-au-Prince into 13 areas for distribution of rice provisions, asking CRS to handle three locations. CRS has completed distributions in two of those areas and will finish up the week of February 15.

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.

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