By Bert Wilkinson
Offering its very limited range of resources, Haiti’s fellow Caribbean Community nations responded to its latest tragedy this week by moving to organize relief supplies and sending in experts from the regional umbrella response agency, even as Tropical Storm Grace dumped tons of rain on the island, adding to the misery from last week’s devastating earthquake.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) said it has already responded to a formal request from authorities to send emergency experts to work with the coordination command center but the team was delayed by the passage of the storm. Officials said the group is mobilized to fly immediately after airports reopen and the all clear is given.
As the bloc pledged full support for Haiti, a number of countries including Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and the Bahamas have said they are willing to send relief aid to Haiti but are anxiously awaiting a needs assessment report from Port Au Prince.
For example, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali reported Tuesday that he had reached out to Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry for an update and he “indicated that an assessment is being done to ascertain the extent of the impact of the earthquake, and to identify the critical areas of need. Dr. Henry also said that the assessment report will be shared with President Ali and Caricom as soon as it has been completed,” a Guyanese government statement said.
Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was hit by a magnitude 7.2 magnitude earthquake at the weekend. Tremors were felt in a number of neighboring countries including Jamaica and The Turks and Caicos Islands among others.
Officials have preliminarily placed the death toll at close to 1,300 with more than 7,000 on the injured list. The quake struck just as doctors and nurses were battling to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus on an island, which, up to last month, had not been able to source adequate supplies of vaccines to deal with the pandemic. Medical personnel are now being forced to basically abandon or limit their attention to the pandemic and switch to the aftermath of the earthquake. The island is set to receive more than 1 million donated doses from the U.S. Its population is nearly 10 million. On top of the pandemic and the quake come the storm and fears about landslides, floods and additional forms of devastation.
Add to this the fact that the country is also still reeling from last month’s brutal assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by international mercenaries. Several of the killers have been arrested.
This is the second major quake to have destroyed large and key portions of that nation’s infrastructure. In 2010, a 7.0 quake killed more than 200,000 people, destroyed thousands of buildings including the presidential palace and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. The latest natural disaster is even more powerful than the one 11 years ago at 7.4 on the measuring scale.
The Antigua Observer newspaper quoted CDEMA boss Liz Riley as saying that while Caricom will assist, “We are trying to make the best decisions that we can based on information available on how to deploy the resources that we have in the region and, of course, those resources are limited and even more constrained as a result of what’s happening across the region with COVID-19. It has been a challenging time. That is just the reality,” she said.