Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's Heartbreak and mankind's compassion

1/27/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The Haitian earthquake continues to dominate the news with its mind-boggling loss of life, horrific injuries, orphaned children and destroyed infrastructure. Images from the 7.3 temblor that destroyed the Port-Au-Prince area are graphic and mind-boggling. In a country where suffering is the norm the quake heaped misery upon misery.

I was on vacation when the enormity of the quake’s devastation began to reverberate around the world. My husband and I were staying on the 31st floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort. A precarious perch when one is contemplating an earthquake’s power.

There in Las Vegas, party capital of the world, we watched the grim daily news, prayed for the homeless, injured, trapped and those who searched for them. We stood in awe of the rescue teams from around the world that mobilized without hesitation to come and help this poorest-of-poor third world country.

Truly mankind’s greatest hour is when diverse cultures can set aside their differences and work together for the common good of those who are suffering. And thanks to the mass media (whom we sometimes curse) we have witnessed people of all creeds and colors rise to the enormous task before them. Coordination of these multi-cultural groups can be difficult.

The 2004 Indonesian tsunami killed an estimated 228,000 people in 14 countries. The United Nations reports that sometimes all did not go well in getting aid to affected areas. In fact, the U.N. says, “agencies around the world tripped over each other in the rush to help.”

So, a new ‘Cluster System’ has been introduced to coordinate relief efforts. The goal of this program is to eliminate redundant efforts and confusion. As a result, this new approach helped put experts in water and sanitation on the ground in Haiti within days of the earthquake, according to Paul Sherlock of the charity group Oxfam.

Critics, however, say the program has its shortcomings. In Sri Lanka, according to one report, many of the donated tents were unsuitable for tropical environments and better suited for alpine mountaineering. After the Kashmir earthquake, Urdu translators were not provided in coordination meetings. There may be kinks in the system but there has also been progress.

Initially, pandemonium reigned at Haiti’s modest airport until they allowed the United States military to bring order to the crowded skies and speed relief to the quake-ravished nation. Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, Russia, Japan and Britain were just some of the countries that circled the airport and saturated the airspace as logistics were worked out.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was one of the first groups to offer search-and-rescue aid and medical help. They set up a field hospital in a football stadium staffed by doctors, nurses, police officers and many volunteers (240). The hospital includes operating rooms, a medical lab, X-ray center, ICU, a maternity and pediatric ward.

Thanks to modern technology one baby lived that might otherwise have died. Dr. Richard Besser, an ABC health and medical editor found a young first-time mother, in a park, in the final stages of a breech birth. He was initially unable to detect movement or a heartbeat; infection was evident and the situation was dire.

Using his Blackberry he was able to consult gynecologists in New York for help. He was advised that the baby and mother would die without a c-section but they had to find the hospital. He contacted an Israeli friend in New York who used Google Earth to guide the Haitian driver mile by mile (in French) to the Israeli field hospital. The woman successfully delivered her son and said she would name him “Israel.”

Although there was some talk that there was a lack of aid from the Muslim world, news from “The Majlis” begged to differ and published a list that proved their point. Contributions from Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey and other Muslims ranged from military field hospitals and medics to search-and-rescue teams, hundreds of tons of food, tents and medicine and million dollar checks.

Watching the Haiti situation unfold from my nice, clean hotel, I closed my eyes and imagined myself homeless, cut and bruised, covered with dirt and ashes, digging through rubble to find a loved one. I imagined the heartbreak of hearing children crying for their mothers. I prayed for those who were living an unending nightmare.

Everyone wants to help. But how? The newscasts gave options but I wasn’t home. Immediately I texted HAITI to 90999 and donated $10 to the American Red Cross via my cell phone. This small amount of money multiplied by millions of others, helped me to momentarily be a tiny flickering light in the darkness.

Californians are used to earthquakes. Oregonians are not. Yet, it is expected that a powerful earthquake and tsunami will strike the Oregon coast in the next 50 years. Under emergency conditions, immediate help is not always available due to destroyed infrastructure, loss of life or weather (snow). So what should we do?

Capt. Jim Thiel of South Lane County Fire and Rescue’s advice was to immediately exit the building. Or as he humorously put it “Get outside and don’t stand in front of the china closet!” Once the ground stops shaking, we need to be aware of what’s going on around us and watch out for downed power lines, trees or other hazards.

“Most people in the Pacific Northwest are prepared for emergencies,” he continued. “Be prepared to take care of yourself for 24 hours. Consider it a camping trip. Have water, canned foods and propane handy. Cook on the barbecue and keep the freezer door closed. Use your generator if you have one.”

Get into survival mode. And remember what every school child knows— Drop, Cover and Hold On!

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Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

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