Haiti earthquake: Relief efforts

Casey Calamusa
Communications Director, World Vision
Thursday, January 14, 2010; 10:00 AM

Casey Calamusa, communications director at World Vision, was online Thursday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss relief efforts in Haiti. World Vision has a staff of 70 workers and volunteers in Port-au-Prince (a total of 370 in the country) and is sending out 18 metric tons of supplies today. Calamusa is in touch with staffers on the ground and will report the latest news.


Casey Calamusa: Hi all, this is Casey Calamusa with World Vision. I'll be speaking with you on behalf of our staff in Haiti. Looking forward to your questions.


Arlington, Va.: Where can I donate money that has a good history of not wasting money on administrative costs. The Red Cross has had issues in this area and I would prefer to donate to another organization.

Casey Calamusa: You can donate online at www.worldvision.org. There are also lots of other organizations with good operations in Haiti, and many news outlets have been listing them on their sites.


Washington, DC: In the best of times, Haiti is incredibly crowded. It's hard for me to imagine how room can be made for any meaningful rebuilding. In other parts of the world, vast tent camps become permanent. Any thoughts on how the rebuilding can take place, and the people protected from permanent helplessness? Are there lessons from the tsunami?

Casey Calamusa: It's true that Haiti is already an extremely impoverished nation. The immediate focus is to provide for the urgent needs on the ground (food, water, shelter, medical supplies). Rebuilding will take time, but there are a lot of experienced organizations on the ground that will be working together to help get the people back on their feet.


Herndon, Va.: When the immediate relief turns to reconstruction, will there be leadership and assistance in Haiti that will look at building away from the fault line and strengthening building codes?

Casey Calamusa: Increasing the level of preparedness and also increasing the quality of building construction will certainly be a focus during rebuilding efforts. Our staff on the ground have already told us that despite all the damage, there were some emergency alert and response systems in place for hurricanes that have been adapted for the earthquake and have proven helpful. Aid organizations will certainly be concentrating on finding the best ways to ensure that future quakes do not cause the same damage.


Raleigh, N.C.: Is there any thought of air-lifting orphans to the U.S. for foster care? I would gladly take care of a needy child for as long as necessary. I am sure there are 10,000s of people like me. It is time to think outside the box. You just can't keep babies in makeshift orphanages for long.

Casey Calamusa: That's a very generous offer of you and I'm sure many Americans would be willing, as you say. The preference would certainly be to find surviving relatives for the children so that they can stay with extended family in a familiar environment.


Fairfax, Va.: I know that relief organizations need the media to help get out the story and images related to this tragegy, but it seems like the additional 200 (300? 400?) broadcast and print journalists with their support teams are burdening an already stressed system. They need water, food, shelter, sanitation and transportation - all things that are in short supply for the people of Haiti. Would you support an effort to have some sort of pool coverage, asking the majority of the media to leave?

Casey Calamusa: I think it's very important for Americans and people around the world to be informed about what is going on in disaster situations, especially one as destructive as this earthquake. Aid workers and journalists usually have a good understanding of the work that each needs to accomplish, and the work of both parties is very important.


Baltimore, Md.: It doesn't appear that basic water and food is being distributed. Do you know where things stand on that front?

Casey Calamusa: Aid organizations are working to get emergency responses up and going as quickly as possible, but the logistics are extremely difficult. Phone lines are still down in Haiti, and many roads are blocked by debris. That said, some distributions have begun, but there is certainly more needed. Today, World Vision is flying 18 tons of relief items from Denver to Port-au-Prince to help supplement relief efforts.


Adams Morgan, D.C.: How big are your operations in Haiti? Do you work with other organizations to help streamline the process?

Casey Calamusa: World Vision has worked in Haiti for 30 years and has about 370 staff in the country, 70 of which are in Port-au-Prince. We will definitely be working with other organizations so that together we can have the greatest impact.


Louisville, Ky.: I am a senior at Loisville Male High School and a member of my school's National Honor Society. We are doing a school wide fundraiser. Where can we send the money to best serve Haiti?

Casey Calamusa: Thanks for your interest and desire to help, it's very appreciated! World Vision has a specific fund set up for the Haiti quake, that you can find at www.worldvision.org. I think Washingtonpost.com also has a list of other organizations that are responding.


News Organizations in Hati: Thank you for doing the work you do not only in times of crisis, but daily to try to make lives better.

I was shocked last night to see a particular news organization on the ground, reporting from the airport. On one hand, I assume they brought everything they need to be self-sufficient -- food, water, sleeping bags, etc., and by being there, they're helping to raise needed money for relief.

But. . . I could also see why they could be in the way, taking up space with their plane that may be needed for one with supplies, etc, etc. So I was very conflicted about whether they should or should not be there.

What do you think? And what if all the news organizations not only in the US but around the world show up?

Casey Calamusa: News organizations have a lot of experience covering disasters and know what to do and not to do. This earthquake is certainly generating worldwide attention, but it is the news organizations on the ground that are getting the word out. If the survivors of the quake are to be helped, people need to know about what the situation is on the ground.


D.C.: I'm always a bit overwhelmed by the number of charities providing relief efforts for natural disasters. Where will my $50 go the furthest? Do you have a personal "go-to" charity?

Casey Calamusa: That's a good question. Especially in very large emergencies like this one, there are a lot of organizations that step in to help. I would recommend giving to an established organization that does work that you are passionate about (for example: medicine, water, shelter).


Washington, D.C.: Exactly what supplies is World Vision sending? What about big machinery to remove the concrete rubble? Where does that come from?

Casey Calamusa: World Vision had a lot of relief supplies pre-positioned in Haiti because of the likelihood of hurricanes. Those supplies are being used for this response, and we are also flying in additional supplies such as tarpaulins for temporary shelter, blankets, hygiene kits, cooking sets, etc. The heavy equipment to remove rubble is usually available on the ground.


Logistics in Haiti: Hi Casey,

How hard is it to get supplies into Haiti? It seems like a team of engineers and construction would be vital to even setting up basic services. How easy has it been to move around and get supplies?

Casey Calamusa: Experts are definitely needed to set up an emergency response like this. World Vision fortunately has a lot of those systems and people in place already, especially because Haiti is prone to hurricanes. Right now, it is a challenge getting around in Haiti because of all the destruction.


Annandale, Va.: What is your estimate of the death toll?

Casey Calamusa: It's hard to know right now. I was talking to a staff member last night who had been out on an assessment in Port-au-Prince, seeing what the damages were and what the greatest needs are, and she said there is still so much rubble it's hard to know if people are still trapped. Once phone lines are back up and more search and rescue teams have been able to get in, we will have a clearer picture of the death toll.


Chicago, Ill.: What about your own staff people who were on the ground when the quake happened? Have you lost people, or had many injuries?

Casey Calamusa: We have about 370 staff in Haiti, about 70 in Port-au-Prince. Many of them were directly affected. Some of their homes had serious damage. Fortunately, all of our staff are accounted for. Thank you for asking.


Albuquerque, N.M.: Are there any volunteer groups I could contact about going to Haiti and donating my time? I am willing to help out in whatever way needed.

Casey Calamusa: Yes, I think there are. World Vision doesn't bring in volunteers because disasters can be very stressful and chaotic and often require specific training to operate in. However, depending on what you're looking to do, some organizations do accept volunteers.


washingtonpost.com: Video: Moment earthquake hits Haiti (AP)


Washington, D.C.: How do you think this situation is being handled in comparison to other recent complex emergencies?

Casey Calamusa: Emergency response organizations learned a lot during the Asia Tsunami and have been building on those learnings over the last several years. Fortunately in this case, as with the tsunami, there are a lot of organizations on the ground willing to help, but that also poses a logistical challenge, so it will be important that everyone continues to coordinate.


Washington, D.C.: What kinds of relationships do different organizations have on the ground, do they divide up the situation so their efforts don't overlap too heavily and can meet as many needs as efficiently as possible? Does this communication occur on the ground or at a higher level within relief organizations?

Casey Calamusa: You've mentioned a very important point: the coordination between responding agencies. Some organizations have specialities, such as providing medical care. Others that have a broader scope work closely together to make sure they're not duplicating. The focus is to work together to have the greatest impact.


Washington, D.C.: We are hearing alot about Port au Prince, but how is the rest of Haiti, I know the earthquake occurred very close to the capital, but what is happening outside of the city in smaller less accessible areas?

Casey Calamusa: The epicenter of the quake was very near Port-au-Prince, so the majority of the damage is there. It is also a heavily populated area, so the damage is pretty extensive. Our staff are saying that the low-lying areas were the hardest-hit, and that the hills on the outskirts of town did not feel as big of an impact.


Washington, D.C.: How long do you think it will take to rebuild the Haiti? This seems like Katrina but worse.

Casey Calamusa: Rebuilding takes time, and the psychological effects of a disaster also take time to heal. Many people still fear aftershocks and refuse to go back inside. In the next few days we will continue to get a better picture of the full extent of the damage and have a better timeframe for rebuilding. In the meantime, it is obvious that the destruction is severe and the people of Haiti need our help.


Casey Calamusa: My time is up. Thank you everyone for chatting today, it's very encouraging to know that Americans are ready and willing to help Haiti. I'll be sure to pass along that encouragement to our staff in Port-au-Prince. If you would like to make a donation to the relief efforts, please visit www.worldvision.org. Thanks again.


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