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Inside Haiti

Direct Relief International Stops in Santo Domingo, Gears Up for Push to Haiti

For the next nine days, as media interest on Haiti has begun to wane, Independent reporter Chris Meagher will travel with a team from Santa Barbara-based Direct Relief International throughout Haiti. Despite the fact that media attention is diminishing, the need for medical supplies is growing. Chris will follow aid workers on their journey to provide medical supplies to the dozens of clinical partners they have established over the years. He will also touch base with other organizations and groups working in Haiti, reporting on what is happening in the devastated island country.

The Direct Relief team of three arrived yesterday in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, which is Haiti’s neighboring country on the island of Hispaniola. As direct flights to Haiti are difficult if not impossible to come by, the Dominican Republic is serving as a waypoint for many aid workers travelling to and from the country.

The group is staying at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel and Casino, the temporary home of a number of other relief groups. It appears as though some people with the World Food Program are staying here, as the hotel sits just a few blocks from a United Nations complex. The paved roads, welcoming atmosphere, and relatively cleanliness of both the hotel and city in general has already stood out as polar opposite to what the group is expecting to encounter once it arrives in Haiti.

Staging in Santo Domingo Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, the team consists of DRI emergency response coordinator Brett Williams, former DRI operations manager Andrew MacCalla, and Gordon Willcock, an Australian native who works for Australian Aid International, a partner of DRI’s that also sends people to help in emergencies. Willcock is also on active military duty and recently served in Afghanistan.

The three plan on hitching a ride on a United Nations flight taking off at 2 p.m., arriving in Haiti at 2 p.m. (Haiti aligns with the Eastern Standard Time Zone, while the Dominican is an hour earlier.) From there, logistical efforts will begin, from securing a driver for the next month to hopefully finding a hotel to sleep in tonight and the rest of the stay. Williams, who is making his second trip to Haiti since the January 12 quake, will be in Haiti until next Monday. The other two, however, will be here for the next month or so. The goal for this trip is to set up DRI’s long-term presence as they continue to bring aid to the devastated country; some have estimated it will take the country more than a decade to recover from the earthquake. MacCalla and Willcock will be overseeing the beginning of that process.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti was already in a devastated state before the January 12 quae. The 7.0 magnitude trembler knocked out hospitals, schools, churches, government buildings, and homes. An estimated 250,000 people were injured, 200,000 were killed, and many people are still missing nearly three weeks later.

Scheduled to arrive later today is a shipment sent from Santa Barbara, which is headed across the border from Santo Domingo into Haiti. That shipment contains 16 palettes of supplies for St. Damien’s Children Hospital in Port-au-Prince. The group will accompany the shipment, which contains immediate wound care products along with antibiotics and general care supplies to the hospital, where it will likely be distributed. In fact, everything that has arrived in Haiti, including $2.4 million in supplies that have been sent over six shipments from DRI, has been specifically requested.

That is changing, however, in the coming months, as one of the group’s main objectives for the trip is to secure a warehouse to rent. Once established, the warehouse will be filled with basic supplies including wound care, antibiotics, surgical supplies and first aid, the goal to have on-hand supplies which clinics can request in smaller amounts, getting the resources into the hands of medical personnel “the easiest and fastest way” without overwhelming their partners, MacCalla explained.

Additionally, a $16 million shipment of 60 palettes from DRI should be arriving later this week, and the group will be available to help distribute. “When needs arise, we can fulfill them immediately,” Williams said.

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