Thursday, 14 January 2010

Haiti Earthquake

What is it with Haiti? Things were starting to get a bit better there: the country was slowly recovering from devastating floods in 2004 and 2009, gang violence was subsiding and there was more political stability – a few foreign investors were even coming back, and now this! The worst earthquake in 200 years struck the country yesterday, devastating the capital city, killing thousands and threatening over 3 million people in this desperately poor country.

I went to Haiti a few times, the last one in 2007 to report with photographer Caroline Irby on a group of poor, uneducated, HIV-positive mothers who care for and support some 250 HIV positive families in the slums of Port-au-Prince. (Our article was published in the Telegraph Magazine in June 2007). These mothers suffered every possible hardship, but remained feisty, fighting and surviving – just like their country.

Such a devastating earthquake would be a disaster anywhere, but in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas and one with no infrastructure, it is a tragedy. Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy for Haiti, said the quake was "one of the great humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas".

While in Haiti, Caroline and I worked with Plan, an international children’s organization, which has been in Haiti since 1973, and were very impressed with their work and approach.

Plan Haiti Director Rezene Tesfamariam said the devastation in the capital Port-au-Prince was on an “unimaginable” scale. “I’ve seen villages destroyed by floods but this is something else. I’ve worked for Plan for 27 years and have seen all kinds of tragedies. I’ve seen refugees fighting for their lives and floods destroy communities, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Plan is working closely with government, emergency services and other organizations to respond to the immediate to the immediate needs of children in the region and assess the situation. To make a donation to Plan's emergency work in the country, call their freephone 0800 1300230 or make an online donation.

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