First Person

A day of ups and downs near the Haitian border

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Oxfam’s Coco McCabe is one of several Boston-based colleagues on her way to Haiti to help with the relief effort, where they will join over 200 Oxfam staff already on the ground. Here’s her latest update, dated January 18.

It’s dusk. We’ve just pulled into San Juan, not far from the Haitian border, which we hope to cross tomorrow and finally reach Port-au-Prince. It’s been a day of ups and downs. We heard that other Oxfam colleagues in the capital had located a warehouse—still sound despite the 7.0 quake—and have their sights set on two more. That means that the 70,000 pounds of Oxfam relief aid—including food and water—now sitting at the airport in Santo Domingo can be delivered safely to Port-au-Prince and distributed. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a planned water distribution in the capital had to be canceled today because there wasn’t enough fuel available in the city to allow aid workers to carry out the work.

They say you can only go for three days without water before the lack of it starts to take a serious physical toll. Time is not on our side at this point. The urgency is acute. We all felt it today, squeezed like sardines into a pickup hurtling toward the border, six of us from four different Oxfam affiliates.

One of our missions before crossing in the morning will be to load up on food for colleagues in the capital who are running out. If they’re hungry, what must the conditions be like for the 250,000 people who have lost their homes?

That question feels extra fraught after having sped by field after lush field of rice, beans, and bananas on the drive across the Dominican Republic this afternoon. Food is growing here, and irrigation systems—one with water whirling through a neatly lined channel of stone—are feeding it. But in Haiti? And in crowded, ruined Port-au-Prince?

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