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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

February 28, 2010

UCG member in Haitian relief effort

Filed under UCG-Germany

UCG member Norbert Haase, who works for the German Red Cross, arrived in Haiti 48 hours after the January 12 earthquake there.

One of the original UCG-Germany members, Norbert moved from Germany to Peru in April 1998. He has since married there and has worked the last ten years for the German Red Cross. Here is his report – translated from German – on the relief effort in Haiti:

Earthquake in Haiti
 Norbert Haase (on the left) and a Red Cross
 helper assess needs in an emergency camp.
Earthquake in Haiti
 Norbert helps distribute relief goods with his
 Red Cross colleagues in Port-au-Prince.
Earthquake in Haiti
 This was Norbert's lodging during the first six
 weeks of his assignment in Haiti.

On January 12, 2010 Haiti was hit by a severe earthquake, especially its capital city Port-au-Prince. 2.5 million people live in Port-au-Prince and its immediate vicinity. More than half of them lost their belongings within a few seconds after the earthquake began. The official statistics show 230,000 dead and about 400,000 injured. 150,000 of the injured were categorized as being in serious condition. Thousands of amputations had to be performed.

As an employee of the German Red Cross in Lima/Peru, I was dispatched the day of the earthquake, where I arrived 48 hours after the catastrophe. My description of the earthquake is "a catastrophe within the catastrophe" because Haiti frequently experiences natural disasters. Almost every year there are floods or hurricanes. In addition, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Port-au-Prince was a scene of destruction upon my arrival. Everywhere there were destroyed houses and thousands of people living in the streets, trucks filled with bodies and the stench of decaying corpses beneath the debris. During the drive through the city to my lodging place (for the next six weeks a tent) it got darker and even more eerie. There was no electricity in the whole city, yet here and there small fires were burning. It was like driving through a ghost town.

My assignment for the next days was to find out what the people needed most. I visited the people in their emergency overnight accommodations made out of bed sheets, plastic bags or anything else available. For the many injured the most needed help was of course medical attention. Most hospitals were destroyed or so badly damaged that they had to be evacuated. The German Red Cross air freighted a mobile emergency clinic and hospital along with qualified personnel right into the disaster area just a few days after the catastrophe.

After this initial assessment I was responsible for the distribution of the first relief items. We were able to provide material for about 5000 families to build temporary living quarters. During this initial effort I had very close contact with the Haitian people and I must say that they always treated me and my colleagues very kindly.

Sadly this assistance is only a drop in the ocean and surely it will take many years until the nation will recover from this catastrophe.

The German Red Cross received about 20 million euro in donations and plans to use it for various projects like the rebuilding of hospitals and the construction of about 3500 permanent dwellings. We will also contribute funds for the reconstruction of Haiti's national Red Cross headquarters building which was destroyed by the earthquake.

My first mission here will end on March 10th and then I am scheduled for vocational training in Germany. After that I'll stay in Germany for about another two weeks for vacation so that I can spend the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bred in Germany together with my wife. Then I will probably return to Haiti for another three week assignment.

The only thing that will really help Haiti and the whole world is the return of our brother Jesus Christ. If such catastrophes affect you directly you realize how desperately the world needs this day. Even though we may not be not directly affected by a catastrophe like this, we really should long for this day, too. Don't let us forget to pray every day – wholeheartedly – "Thy kingdom come."

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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