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Global Humanitarian Response Critical to Haiti

January 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The death toll in Haiti is on the rise, with some 50,000 people feared dead and three million more injured or homeless. Judy Woodruff talks to Helene Gayle of Care USA about the humanitarian effort underway.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And for a larger look now at the humanitarian effort under way in Haiti, we are joined by Dr. Helene Gayle. She’s president and CEO of CARE USA. CARE has worked to help people in Haiti since 1954.

Dr. Gayle, we just heard former President Clinton say that he didn’t know if anybody was in charge. We’re now seeing wire reports from Haiti that people who are frustrated that no aid is getting in are setting up roadblocks with corpses in the roads. What is your sense of why it’s taking so long to get help?

DR. HELENE GAYLE: Well, I think several of the speakers, including President Clinton, have made clear how chaotic and how difficult the situation is right now, how just the very physical infrastructure that has been destroyed makes it difficult to get this really launched in the way that it needs to be.

And that’s why, you know, it needs to be taken in a step-wise fashion. First of all, clearing some of the rubble, the debris, making it possible to pass — pass through the country, get supplies in, rehabilitate the port, all these things are going to be necessary to make this a more orderly recovery period.

But I think, you know, what is good is that there is a commitment. The airport is now getting — has started to let planes in. People are coming in through the neighboring country, through the Dominican Republic. And, so, I think that it won’t be very long before we see this taking shape and being able to start a much more orderly process of responding to this incredible emergency.

But I think it’s hard to underestimate how difficult it is with all the infrastructure that’s been destroyed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, from your perspective through CARE, what are the greatest needs right now?

DR. HELENE GAYLE: Well, I would just reiterate what everybody has said.

I mean, the most important is immediately the search-and-rescue and making sure that we’re able to provide emergency support to those who are already living — that are still living. The first 24, 48, 72 hours are the most critical periods of times to get food, water, shelter, making sure that we can do what we can to prevent further death.

Then, it’s also important, as has already been emphasized, that we try to do what we can for the dignity of those who have already died. So, I think if we really look at this as providing support to those who need it most, most urgently, those who are still living, medical supplies, medical needs — people have been injured.

There are people who are very, very close to having catastrophic emergency needs, who already have catastrophic emergency needs, health needs, that need to be taken care of.

So, I think looking at those emergency issues and then also tending to those who have already been deceased, and then looking at what is it going to take to slowly look at a recovery rehabilitation phase, and do that as expeditiously as possible — CARE, as well as other organizations that already have people on the ground, are able to start the response quickly.

We have 130 people. And, as you said, we have been there for over 55 years. So, we were able to take things that are already in our warehouse there, start distributing food. We’re giving out food, particularly to the most vulnerable women and children, who are at greatest risk of malnutrition in this situation.

So, we want to make sure that we are doing what we can with what we already have available. We’re deploying people to Haiti rapidly. We’re starting to send in supplies from neighboring countries, like Panama, where we have resources and warehouse and things stockpiled there, and try to get this out to people as quickly as possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is there now the kind of coordination that you think that it requires?

And, just quickly, second of all, for those people who are watching, what would you add to what President Clinton said, that, right now, what’s needed is money?

DR. HELENE GAYLE: Well, first, I would underscore that. What’s needed right now is, in fact, money, resources, so that we can continue to bring in the kinds of supplies, bring in the kinds of support that’s necessary.

Everybody — you know, people have been so incredible about wanting to get on planes and get there and do something and physically participate. But that’s not necessary, or it’s — it’s not even possible right now, with the destruction of the infrastructure that everyone has talked about.

But what is needed right now are resources — $5, $10, it really doesn’t matter. It all helps. And so we would just continue to encourage people to do that.

No, the coordination is not yet what it needs to be, but I think that people recognize, and through the experience of things like the tsunami, that this — that we can not risk having this be chaotic and having this not be done in a way that brings organizations together in a coordinated fashion.

So, I really do think that we have the opportunity to do this better, do this better than we have in the past. I think people recognize that we need to do this in a unified fashion, let each one do what they do best, so that this comes together in a way that really does the most to help and support the Haitian people and the Haitian government, which does have the ability, once it gets back up on its feet, as President Clinton said, to really help to lead this response.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Helene Gayle with CARE USA, thanks very much.

DR. HELENE GAYLE: Thank you, Judy.