1/21/10: Update on Red Cross Efforts in Haiti
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1/21/10: Update on Red Cross Efforts in Haiti

Grand Circle Foundation joins conference call with Red Cross SVP
who recently returned from Haiti

David Metzer reviews damage of American Red Cross    On the afternoon of Thursday, January 21, Alan and Harriet Lewis of Grand Circle Foundation were invited to join a conference call with David Meltzer, Senior Vice President of International Services for the American Red Cross. David visited Haiti on Tuesday, January 19, and he had much insight to share regarding the reality of life on the ground in Haiti and exactly how the Red Cross is contributing to relief efforts.

    For the 4,000-plus travelers and associates who contributed to our $517,000 donation to the Red Cross, we feel it is our duty to share what we have learned—because we are all making a difference in Haiti together.

    David began with a sobering account of what he personally observed in Haiti. He could not stress enough that, "What you see on television does not accurately reflect what's happening." For example, a television camera captures three people on the streets of Port au Prince—but not the hundreds of others who are wandering around in shock. On television, we see one building collapsed—but not the dozens of others that have been reduced to rubble. As David put it, "They're pancaked."

    "Wherever there is open space," he said, "people are living under cloth or plastic tarps. Flattened Building
To call them 'tents' would be incredibly generous."

    Both physically and emotionally, the community is shattered—and American television simply cannot capture the breadth of destruction and the terrible state of living conditions.

    On a relatively positive note, David informed us that violence in Haiti is not as widespread as the media might have us believe. "Violence is expected when aid distribution is done poorly," he said, "but our benefit is that we have the Haitian Red Cross in the community making a significant impact." By preparing communications, handing out vouchers, and forming orderly lines to receive aid, the Red Cross helps to ensure that distribution goes well. Conversely, when supplies are simply dropped from helicopters (an extreme last resort), riots ensue—and the strongest may grab multiple shares while the weakest who need the most aid receive none.

Girl gets help in Haiti    Aid distribution within the community represents just one of many logistical challenges that the Red Cross is facing in a country that had little infrastructure even before the earthquake. The airport's one runway is now functioning, but the one port still is not—and probably won't be until next week. The road between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is so congested, a drive that once took 6-7 hours now takes 12-18. "We need a firehose to push all the aid through," said David. "Last week we had a straw, and this week, we maybe have a garden hose."

    Given these challenges, the priority areas for the Red Cross are among the most basic—including water, food, fuel, and medical supplies.

Water distribution    The Red Cross has identified treatment facilities to purify the water already available in the country, and will be supplying more than one million water purification packets. At this time, they are providing enough water for an estimated 200,000 people per day, and this number is soon expected to double.

    Food, according to David, "is confusing." While some survivors have been able to find food and cook it on the street, prices for what little is available have increased to the point where very few can afford them. To feed the estimated two million hungry people as efficiently as possible, the Red Cross is partnering with the World Food Program—a worldwide humanitarian organization with an expertise in food assistance. The Red Cross is shipping three million self-heating meals to Haiti from their warehouses in the United States.

American Red Cross workers    While the "firehose" hasn't yet reached full force to push all necessary aid to Haiti, the Red Cross has already made a significant impact on the lives of survivors. Already, the Red Cross has deployed more disaster relief experts to Haiti than they did during the entire tsunami relief effort in Southeast Asia—which shows both the gravity of the situation and the commitment of the Red Cross to do everything in their power to help.

    As David Meltzer acknowledged, the generosity of the American people—including the 4,000 donors who contributed through Grand Circle Foundation—makes these relief efforts possible. If a $10 donation can provide a family with two cans of drinking water, a blanket, and perhaps even additional supplies, imagine the impact of the $517,000 we've raised together.

    We will continue to update with more details as we receive them.