Facing a growing humanitarian crisis after the largest earthquake in Haiti in two centuries, Catholic aid agencies and world governments were boosting efforts to respond to the needs of hundreds of thousands of injured and homeless. Authorities raised their estimates of the number of dead to 200,000. Another 300,000 people were injured, and more than 1.5 million are now homeless. Up to 3 million of Haiti’s 9.8 million people were affected by the most recent natural disaster to strike the small nation.
Agencies like Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic Relief Services have raised millions of dollars to provide medical services, food and shelter to survivors and head off the rapid spread of disease. The agencies were coordinating efforts with other religious, nongovernmental and government operations as hunger grew and some Haitians became increasingly impatient because they had received little or no assistance in the week since the earthquake on Jan. 12.
Catholic Relief Services increased its pledge of aid for the impoverished nation to $25 million, and it could go higher, said Pat Johns, director of safety and security for the Baltimore-based agency. Caritas Internationalis, numerous other Catholic aid agencies and Catholic religious orders were working alongside C.R.S. staff in a vast outpouring of assistance. As the pace of the response accelerated, agencies took extra security measures after reports of looting in some Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. C.R.S. was sending in its security expert from Africa and was working with U.N. peacekeepers to protect convoys as supplies were taken across the border from the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Christian Fuchs, communications director for Jesuit Refugee Service USA in Washington, D.C., said the agency had opened several medical centers to assist injured people in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the Haitian capital and the surrounding area. Jesuit-run hospitals and clinics in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Turgeau, Haut Turgeau, Delmas and Canape Vert reopened, and a health care facility in the quake-ravaged town of Léogâne, about 25 miles west of Port-au-Prince, also reopened.
As Haitians who survived the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake begin to look for new places to live, the United States is easing immigration restrictions for some Haitians, including those in the United States illegally before the quake and for Haitian orphans. Meanwhile, aid agencies are beginning to look at how to handle the potential movement of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of displaced people, who may try to settle in other countries in the region.
As teams of medical personnel from across the United States were being shuttled to Haiti, C.R.S. opened a supply pipeline connecting the town of Jimani, on the border to the Dominican Republic about 35 miles from Port-au-Prince, with the Haitian capital. Johns said shelter kits, bedding, mosquito nets, water and food were being distributed from one of two C.R.S. warehouses in the capital. Although undamaged, the second warehouse was blocked by debris, and distribution of its contents had not yet begun as of Jan. 19, he said. The agency hired workers to clear the blockage, and Johns said he expected it would be at least another day before the stored supplies could be distributed.
Fuchs reported that Jesuits in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were preparing to assist refugees if an exodus of people from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican border developed. “We’re concerned that could be an overwhelming situation,” he said. “We’re pushing that anyone displaced by the earthquake be given accommodation in Haiti.”
The church efforts supplemented the global response from the world’s governments. As of Jan. 19, the United States had more than 11,000 military personnel on the ground or offshore preparing to mobilize. In addition nearly three dozen helicopters were flying supplies to nine landing zones around Port-au-Prince.