The 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, left in its wake 230,000 people dead—more than all of the natural disasters in the United States combined—and another 1.3 million without a home. A country ravaged by natural disasters and corrupt leadership was once again sent reeling.
While clean water and sanitation, already hard to come by, became more scarce as people lived in miserably close quarters, an outbreak of cholera struck mid-year. The troubles continue to this day: Hospitals and clinics are seeing 12,000 new cases per week, and it’s affecting every sector of the population.
But through it all, Goleta-based Direct Relief International has been there, with a presence unparalleled to any other natural disaster the nonprofit has responded to.
Direct Relief representatives have more than 40 years of experience working with Haiti’s health-care providers, which allowed DRI to hit the ground running when the temblor rattled the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, and coordinate with people on-site before the dust even settled. Since then, Direct Relief has established a warehouse on the outskirts of Haiti, where more than $54 million—600 tons worth—of medicines and supplies have passed through before ending up at the more than 100 clinics around Haiti that DRI is now partners with.
Direct Relief has given $2 million to support long-term rehabilitation efforts, including prosthetic and orthotic services; $300,000 went toward a new facility that’s outfitting more than 900 people with prosthetics or wheelchairs.
Transparency, accessibility, and efficiency are important to the world-renowned agency. Every $1 donated to Direct Relief turns into $40 of medication for Haitians. Its Web site features an interactive map, where users can look at an image of Haiti and see where DRI has distributed its medicine, what kind of medicine it was, and how much money it cost.
And now that much of the Haiti relief effort is back online, the nonprofit has also established an easy system for its partner clinics to view the medicines and supplies Direct Relief has on hand, and request shipment. The system has caught the attention of government officials, who are hoping to facilitate a similar system countrywide, creating even greater efficiencies among the nongovernmental organizations and the Haitian government.
The system is just one of the victories accomplished over the last year. Hospitals that were once overflowing with people and not able to handle many cases are now equipped better than they ever have been. Some now have intensive care units, for example, and one facility now has a brand new, fully equipped, earthquake ready operating room. Through a community grant fund, Direct Relief has given more than $500,000 to 23 local groups working in their communities that needed a hand financially, and will be essential to rebuilding their country.
But there is still much to be done.
Tent villages, which were erected shortly after the quake, are still ever present, said DRI’s operations specialist Andrew MacCalla who is currently on the ground in Haiti. “I can’t notice a difference. If anything, there’re more people living in tents.” A lot of the pancaked buildings have been cleared out, but very little has been done in terms of rebuilding.
As the one-year anniversary of the quake has approached, talk has focused on two subjects: the recent election—ballots for which are being recounted—and cholera. The percentage of people dying from the intestinal infection has gone down, but its spread has hardly decreased. “It’s always a big, scary issue that looms,” said DRI’s CEO Thomas Tighe. Clean water, soap, IV fluids, and oral rehydration solution are the main weapons against cholera, but they’re all in short supply in the island country, and post-election violence has made distribution more difficult.
DRI tried to get in front of cholera, and recently shipped four boatloads of IV fluid that tripled the country’s supply. It’s now estimated that 100,000 liters of IV fluid are needed per week to treat cholera, and there are currently only 20,000 liters available anywhere in the country.
Direct Relief International is but one of 12,000 nongovernmental organizations working in Haiti, but is consistently commended for making the most with what it’s been given. For more on Direct Relief and to learn how to help, visit directrelief.org.