First Person

Trying to get into Haiti

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Nearly a week after the earthquake in Haiti, aid groups are delivery vital assistance to survivors.
Nearly a week after the earthquake in Haiti, aid groups are delivering vital assistance to survivors.

Over the weekend we sent several of our colleagues from headquarters here in Boston to Haiti, where they will join 200 Oxfam staff already on the ground. We just got this report from Coco McCabe in the Dominican Republic, she describes the transportation and logistical difficulties of trying to move people and material across the border. We will post more material from Coco as it comes in…

SANTO DOMINGO–Oxfam is already providing critical water for people in Port-au-Prince where a massive earthquake has left more than 300,000 people homeless and has severely restricted access to basics like water.

I’m reminded of its value at Logan airport [in Boston] when I fork over $2.45 for a meager 20 ounces. It’s been trucked all the way from Maine in a plastic bottle. At the San Juan airport in Puerto Rico, 40 ounces cost almost $6. But I buy it, for fear of getting dehydrated—a fear that is all too real for untold numbers of people in Haiti’s capital. Though Oxfam is rushing to get water to as many people as possible, the challenges are severe.

In Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic city that is serving as a sort of staging ground for aid workers trying to get into Haiti, we learn that a large shipment of supplies sent by a donor to Oxfam is languishing here. The damaged airport in Haiti couldn’t handle it. Included in the 70,000 pound shipment is vital water—50,000 pounds of it in bottles. The cargo also includes more than 24,000 first-aid kits, 70 pallets of disinfectant and wipes, and 2,000 pounds of rice.

How to get the shipment through the long wait at the border crossing between the Dominican Republic and Haiti and down to the distressed capital? That’s the first challenge—one of many to come—that confronts  Oxfam Quebec’s Jean Pierre Chicoine when he steps off the plane in Santo Domingo. He’s a business development manager for Africa who has been dispatched here to assess quickly where some of the gaps in assistance may be—and work to fill those gaps. When we catch up with him a couple of hours after landing, he’s already working the phones, a thick sheaf of notes propped on his lap.

Skipping between English, French, and Spanish, Chicoine works on logistics. How can our small team—now numbering three of us from Oxfam America and Chicoine—get transportation into Haiti? We hear about UN flights on small 10-seaters, but space is limited, and chances are we could get bumped by UN staffers, even if we make a reservation. Hiring a private car and driving would require permission from the Dominican government. Not doable on short notice.

But Jenny Reyes Savinon, who works for Oxfam Quebec on a bi-national project , has an idea: We could drive to the Dominican town of San Juan, where Oxfam Quebec has an office, take one of the office cars and head to Port-au-Prince from there. In good times, the drive from San Juan would take about four hours. But now? Savinon shakes her head. No one knows.

But this much we decide on: If we take that route, we’ll load up on supplies for team members in Port-au-Prince.

“Our teams were having trouble getting water and gasoline yesterday,” says Chicoine, thinking ahead—as always. “If we pass by San Juan we’ll buy water, food, and maybe gasoline if we have a jerry can.”

Save lives now by donating to Oxfam’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund

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