Some U.S. Troops Stay In Haiti; Aid Officials Prepare For Rainy Season

Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, said on Thursday that American troops would stay in the country to aid in its recovery, Agence France-Presse reports. “There are about 6,500 soldiers in Haiti at the moment. There were some 20,000 for the emergency effort launched in the wake of January 12,” Merten said. “What is planned for the moment is more and more staff from USAID on the ground and fewer and fewer troops. Gradually, they’ll leave. In my opinion, we will need some American troops to stay here for the foreseeable future” (2/25).

In a departure from previous plans, relief officials are recommending that homeless Haitian earthquake survivors return to their damaged homes as the rainy season approaches, the Associated Press/New York Times reports. “Officials had initially planned to build big camps outside Port-au-Prince. They still anticipate creating some settlements, but they decided this week to instead emphasize getting people to pack up their tents and tarps and go home. For that to be possible, authorities will need to demolish hundreds if not thousands of buildings and remove mountains of rubble,” the news service reports. 

According to the news service, “The International Organization for Migration began registration at the plaza Wednesday, collecting people’s old addresses in hopes that most can be resettled relatively quickly in their old neighborhoods.” Some people will not be able to return to their homes, but this process will help relief officials identify within about two weeks the structures that can be used and the ones that should be demolished, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Blackwell, who is helping to coordinate the plan (2/26).

Meanwhile, Reuters examines the health risks and other challenges that are expected with the upcoming rainy season. “Seasonal rains and hurricanes spell trouble for Haiti in the best of times, but with hundreds of thousands of people living in flimsy makeshift shelters after last month’s earthquake, this year the dangers are much greater. The rainy season begins in earnest in early April and the hurricane season in early June, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Both can be deadly,” Reuters writes.

“Beyond distributing waterproof shelter materials, aid agencies are also working to improve sanitation and health care – all essential in wet conditions which help infections spread.” The article includes quotes from aid workers and U.N. officials on the ground and looks at their work aimed at minimizing the negative impact of the rainy season (Dmitracova, 2/25).

A second Reuters article examines the role U.N. troops played immediately following the earthquake in Haiti last month. “There were about 9,000 uniformed U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Haiti when the quake struck on January 12 and they were the logical ‘first responders’ to the disaster in the impoverished Caribbean country, whose notoriously weak central government was overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy,” according to Reuters.

“Initially, however, none of the peacekeepers appeared to be involved in hands-on humanitarian relief in what emergency medical experts describe as the critical first 72 hours after a devastating earthquake strikes.” The article looks at the factors that impeded the U.N. response, including the need to maintain order while delivering aid.  

“U.N. and other officials have said the global response to Haiti’s quake was quicker and more effective than in other recent disasters, including the Asian tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries in December 2004. But experts say the United Nations has a lot to learn from smaller, more nimble medical groups like International Medical Corps, or IMC, and Paris-based Medicins Sans Frontieres, along with charities more experienced in distributing aid, such as CARE and Catholic Relief Services” (Brown, 2/26).

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