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Teleconference Briefing on Relief Efforts in Haiti


Special Briefing
Gordon Duguid
Official, Bureau of Public Affairs
Tim Callaghan, Team Leader, USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team; Kate Conrad, Emergency Communications Director, Save the Children
Via Teleconference from Haiti
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
January 24, 2010

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United States Government
Haiti Joint Information Center
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Email Contact: HaitiJIC@USAID.gov

MR. DUGUID: This is Gordon Duguid and I’ll be your moderator today. We are at the U.S. Joint Information Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Our guests today are Mr. Tim Callaghan who is the Team Leader for USAID’s DART Team in Port-au-Prince now, and we also have with us from Save the Children, Kate Conrad, who is the Emergency Communications Director for Save the Children. They’ll each start out with a brief statement and then we’ll go to your questions.

Mr. Callaghan, would you like to begin?

MR. CALLAGHAN: Sure. Again, my name is Tim Callaghan, I’m the Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader for USAID here in Haiti. I’ve been on a lot of these calls the past week. As we normally do, I’d like to reiterate that we are committed to continue to work around the clock to provide relief to the many people impacted by this earthquake.

Our priorities continue to be in several areas. Urban search and rescue. Obviously that phase is winding down. We have been on the ground, as I’ve mentioned before, the first U.S. team arrived on January 13th, within 24 hours of the earthquake. We still have teams on the ground. We still have presence. We still currently today have teams at Montana and small teams throughout the city.

Other priorities, and I think I’ve given these figures throughout the week. The latest figure I have is that overall rescues have been I believe 132 is the number, from all the search and rescue teams, and 45 by the United States search and rescue teams. So that effort has been heroic. Obviously that effort is winding down, but the U.S. still has teams on the ground. We’ll continue to do so for the next several days.

Other priorities we have obviously are food. We are working very hard to work with the World Food Program. As I’ve mentioned previously, the U.S. government has donated $78 million to the World Food Program during this emergency.

We continue to work closely with them to ensure that food is being distributed. There are, I believe, worked on right now plans for 15 distribution sites, and we’re working very closely with the World Food Program currently to get as much food out in the city as possible.

Other areas that we’re looking at very closely, we continue to look at the health issue, water, and of course shelter. And as I’ve mentioned, all the work that we do is based on the needs identified by the government of Haiti. There are daily meetings that we attend, that the Prime Minister articulates the priorities that the government has. We work very closely with the United Nations and the different clusters. We obviously work very closely with our non-government organization and geopartners. We’re funding a series of grants to address the issues in the many sectors that I talked about –- shelter, health, water, food items, and so forth. I don’t have the exact figure, but we’re funding many proposals that are starting now that will address man of these issues.

We continue to have a large presence. We continue to coordinate with the government and we’ll do so and work around the clock to provide support assistance to the many people here in Haiti in need.

That’s all I have for my opening statement. Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you very much, Tim. Ms. Conrad, would you like to make a few remarks?

MS. CONRAD: Sure. Thank you. And thank you for having me.

Save the Children has been in Haiti for about 30 years, so we were able to respond quickly after the disaster. We had some stock on hand, primarily medicines and medical supplies that we pushed out to hospitals and clinics within about 48 hours. And we’ve also been trying, working with the government, working with local partners, working with international agencies, to do as much outreach as we can across the disaster zone. So in addition to working in Port-au-Prince we’re also in Jacmel and Leogane, and we’re looking at moving into Petit Goave.

We’re working across sectors right now. We have delivered some food. Admittedly it’s been difficult to bring in supplies. We have a hub in Miami. We have a hub in the Dominican Republic. We’re flying planes in as best we can. We have planes waiting to come in but we’re trucking in water, food, supplies so that we can build latrines and water points. We have received more than 15 tons of medicine. That’s gone out to hospitals here in Port-au-Prince.

We have set up field clinics in Leogane and in Jacmel, and our teams are seeing Haitians there, more than 100 a day in Leogane, and yesterday I think we saw more than 200 in Jacmel.

As a child focused agency we are also working on protection, which means we are setting up child friendly spaces in camps right now. We are working with the UN, with other agencies, with our local partners, with social workers, to identify unaccompanied children who may be in camps or in homes. After the tsunami in Indonesia we worked with those same groups to trace and reunite children with their family.

We found that of the children we registered, more than 90 percent had family. If not their parents, their extended families. We’re working very hard to find interim care to take care of them if they’re in the camps, to make sure they have a proper caregiver, and then to trace them back to their families because those are the people who are best able to care for them.

Those are probably the high points, and I’m happy to respond to any questions you might have.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you, Kate. We’re now ready to take questions.

QUESTION: Are any of you seeing any evidence of disease yet? For the past week that’s seemed to be one of the primary concerns of all the responders there. Have you recorded any outbreaks yet or witnessed any outbreaks?

MS. CONRAD: Our medical teams reporting primarily pink eye, skin rashes, things you would commonly expect. Some cases of diarrhea, which is extremely worrying because diarrhea kills small children. But no major outbreaks, thankfully.

MR. CALLAGHAN: We’re not getting any word of major outbreaks at this time.

QUESTION: I had a question; I just got back from a couple, a few days down there. One question was, I visited a World Health Organization supply house for medicine and was told that they had had to stop disbursing medicine to anything smaller than a hospital or an organization. Does that sound right? Is there an issue of the amount of medicine that’s available to send out?

MR. CALLAGHAN: Not that I’m aware of. There are a lot of medical supplies, surgical supplies, medicines flowing in, and I’m aware that there’s a health cluster of the United Nations and they’re working very hard, their sub-groups, trying to identify all the needs. There are a lot of field hospitals. The United States is supporting several disaster medical teams here that have brought in their own equipment. We have brought in several, it will be up to nine soon, what are called WHO Medical Kits which has medical supplies for 10,000 people each. Each kit is good for three months. So I’m not aware of, again, my understanding, the supplies are getting out to the highest priority hospitals and clinics.

MS. CONRAD: I would agree. We have been responding to requests, so the major hospitals in Port-au-Prince and some of the smaller ones have given us lists of what they need, and we have delivered that way. Then we’re setting up according to the needs of hospitals in Leogane and Jacmel.

I have heard there have been teams of well-meaning doctors who showed up and they don’t always know where to put them because many of the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and coordination is an issue sometimes because these places went through the earthquake, too. They’re all survivors. And a lot of people, they don’t have the manpower any more. So I think maybe coordinating on an administrative level –

MR. CALLAGHAN: Right. We’re also looking, we sent structural engineers out to some of the hospitals and clinics, the ones that the buildings are damaged. We’re sending tents out so they can continue to work. But my understanding is there are a lot of medical supplies flowing in, which are again through the health cluster of the United Nations. That is managed by the Pan American Health Organization. They’re working very hard to get those supplies out based on the top priorities.

QUESTION: Thanks for the second question. I’m just curious how you’re working, coordinating with the military there. During my brief time there I was struck by how new a lot of this is to the military, humanitarian relief and all the rest of it, and I just wondered the degree to which you’re working closely with them and where maybe some of the rubs are.

MR. CALLAGHAN: Great. Thank you for your question.

As you know, USAID is the lead federal agency in the response. We’re working with many federal agencies who are working with HHS, FEMA, a variety of other agencies. We also work very closely with our colleagues from the U.S. military. We have daily briefings. Basically the way we work is that when we have identified needs where our military colleagues can assist mostly, whether it’s helicopter support or certainly in security, where with the World Food Program, for example, if there are requirements for the distribution of food and security is required, the Disaster Assistance Response Team will make a request here at the embassy for whatever the requirement is and our military colleagues then will provide that.

So it’s close communication, daily meetings. We have a system set up where basically the Disaster Assistance Response Team, as we get requests, as we prioritize needs, and then we’ll make requests to our military colleagues for assistance. That’s how our process works.

QUESTION: Kate, does Save the Children have any direct contact with the military forces that are here?

MS. CONRAD: Right now we’re using our own trucks and our own logistics and our own security staff. We’ve had no incidents with distribution, so –

MR. DUGUID: That’s my understanding, too. One or two NGOs have asked for some assistance with transportation, in one case in security, but most are using their own resources on that.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I have two questions. One is for Kate. As to the protection of children, you addressed that and there are reports that there are some children disappearing, and I’m wondering what you specifically are doing to record and keep track of children.

Then for Mr. Callaghan, I wanted to ask, you talked about the search and rescue operations continuing on. Do you have any idea how many teams are left in the country? I believe there were 47 teams at one point. How many are left and still continuing the search, and particularly at what the Montana Hotel looks like these days.

MS. CONRAD: I’ll start first with missing children. Again, we work with a network of people and we have lots of partners on the ground. They are tracking kids. We will get reports in. We will send teams out. We have about 35 social workers who are now working with us and some teachers, most of them who know they’re not going to have jobs for a while and they work with children. We’ve trained them to help assess conditions and to follow up on those reports.

Many of them have been false reports, but we do check in on all of them. If we come across unaccompanied children we are registering them, where they are, and again, verifying that they’re in an environment where they are safe and secure, and if they’re not we will work to put them in interim care. Ultimately we’re trying to trace them back to their families.

MR. CALLAGHAN: As I mentioned earlier, maybe just to give a real brief history. Again, we arrived on the 13th, our teams. Regarding the Montana, we have had a search team at the Montana since January 14th. There were several rescues there.

At the high point, my records have there were 43 teams. It could be up to 47. Sometimes there were smaller teams who may not always register. But the number I had was 43. That was the highest number I have in my notes.

We brought in, the United States, six urban search and rescue teams. Most of the teams, the average number of people on what we call a heavy team. When I say heavy it is the highest level, and the ability to cut through concrete. It’s up to 75 people, it is search dogs, it is bringing in special equipment to listen, to send cameras in to collapsed structures.

As I mentioned earlier, just for numbers, 132 live rescues throughout this entire event, 45 by the American team.

Currently we have four teams in country. I don’t know the answer to how many teams are still in country overall. I know it’s not a high number.

I believe, the number I had the other day was nine. But the United States has currently four teams in country. We have a combined, the United States has a combined team at the Montana to date, and as I mentioned earlier, we have been there since January 14th. We will be back there tomorrow.

As you can imagine, I believe now we’re 12 days out and it’s very very difficult, and we’re hearing about anywhere – We are prepared to go anywhere that we hear of where someone might be. We are totally committed. But obviously the further we get away from events, the more difficult it becomes. But again, we currently have a combined team at the Hotel Montana where we have had presence since the 14th.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for the next question. There have been a lot of reports about construction of villages, tent cities in the outskirts. Should we expect a wholesale evacuation of Port-au-Prince in the coming days or weeks?

MS. CONRAD: I think the numbers right now are about 130,000 have left Port-au-Prince. It takes time to build tent cities, and I know the people leaving are going to other towns in the countryside. What Save the Children is more concerned about is the drain on services in places like Gonaives and other ones who went through the four hurricanes a year and a half ago who may not have the ability to absorb a large population increase. But honestly, that’s really a question for the UN.

Save the Children tends to supports to camps and often camp management and certainly we provide temporary education. Right now we’re sort of tracking where people are going and helping them where they are.

MR. CALLAGHAN: We also obviously work very closely with the UN. Their cluster is called Shelter, Settlements and Non-Food Items. I don’t have the figure or numbers, but I know we’re working very closely with how many people need a place to stay. We’re looking at a variety of shelter-type options. We have plastic sheeting here for temporary shelters. We’re looking at options such as hosting where people may be staying with family members and so forth. So we’re all working, it certainly is a high priority. It’s an issue that we’re all working together closely to address in the coming week.

MR. DUGUID: If I can also give some cultural context. As in many traditional societies, urban dwellers here have, even if they’ve been here for two and three generations, have a village in the countryside that they consider to be their home, and many times they will return to that place, and there are family there to take care of them. That’s not to say that the issues of dealing with people, population movements are easy, but many people are not fleeing blindly from Port-au-Prince, many people have a destination in mind and have family at the other end of that destination.

QUESTION: My question is about weather. I know we’re in the dry season, but what are your concerns with rain, heavy rainfall, and the outbreak of diseases as related to that?

MR. CALLAGHAN: I think the issue of rainy season/hurricane season obviously is a concern. But hurricane season officially does not start until June 1st, so obviously there is some time. There is certainly urgency to ensure that shelters and people have a place to stay, get built within the next few months, and it’s critical and people are working on that.

Concerned, but usually the rainy season does not start or heavy rains/tropical storms or hurricanes until early June.

MS. CONRAD: We’re all hoping it doesn’t rain. That’s just an increase the misery levels. But it does add urgency to getting shelter supplies out and getting people into something that is a little more secure that would withstand bad weather.

QUESTION: I just wanted to confirm that the two U.S. teams that have left, the search and rescue, are both the teams from south Florida? Also when you say that you guys are continuing at the Montana tomorrow, so you’re still in what you guys have called the search phase there as opposed to recovery?

MR. CALLAGHAN: Yeah. The two Miami teams have not left. They’re still here. They are scheduled to leave, but they’re still here at this time. So the four teams we have right now in country are the two Miami teams – Miami Dade, South Florida; Fairfax County; Los Angeles County.

The teams yesterday were searching. Again, they’re still out there at this point. I haven’t been out there today. I was out there yesterday. Where the phase is, obviously it’s coming close to moving at the hotel from the initial phase, but I can say for certain we have a combined team at the Montana. It’s getting close to that point, but at this point we are searching, we are hoping. We’re doing the best we can. Again, we’re committed. The teams will be out there again tomorrow. We’ll have at least two teams here for the next several days.

MR. DUGUID: I thank everyone for their participation today. We will announce by our usual press release the subject and time of the next telephone press conference. From the Joint Information Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, thank you very much for joining us today.



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