Disaster in Haiti: The Caribbean Response

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Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of DominicaThe massive earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 has galvanized Caribbean nations into unprecedented national and coordinated regional responses. Despite their grave economic and social challenges, members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) were among the first responders, with a Jamaica Defence Force vessel deployed to the island on Jan. 13 with technical, medical and military personnel and relief supplies that included generators, collapsible water containers, mattresses, water purification tablets and general purpose tents.
Haiti joined Caricom just last September and remains the group’s newest member.
“This latest setback to the development of the country will truly test the resilience of the Haitian people,” an official Caricom statement says. “The Caribbean Community grieves with its brothers and sisters in Haiti and extends heartfelt condolences to the Government and People of that Member State and to all others who have lost family and friends.”
Jamaica is the staging point for the 15-member Caricom’s rescue and recovery missions, which are being coordinated by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. The agency has identified four priority areas for immediate assistance: emergency aid; shelter; search and rescue; and communication. The Bahamas, a Caricom member, offered the use of its Embassy, which was not damaged during the earthquake, for the agency’s operations in Port-au-Prince.
Caricom’s response gets under way as some of the staff of its representation office in Haiti remain unaccounted for. The office is charged with assisting Haiti in its integration into the CARCOM Single Market and Economy.
In addition to the coordinated regional response, individual governments, local companies, charities and companies, as well as other regional agencies are providing support to Haiti.
Throughout the region telethons and radiothons are taking place; calypso, soca and reggae artists are organizing benefit concerts; banks are opening special donation accounts; churches and schools are organizing collection centers for supplies; doctors, nurses, medical technicians and public health inspectors are preparing to travel to Haiti; media groups are offering to establish emergency radio broadcasting systems in Port-au-Prince; and illegal Haitian migrants are being given temporary residency status even as countries brace for a possible influx of refugees.
“Haiti, as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, is now severely challenged to cope with this tragedy. Haiti needs all countries, including the small developing countries, to come to its aid urgently,” said Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, whose country houses Caricom’s Secretariat.
Support activities are taking every form and shape. In Bermuda, for example, Bistro at the Beach is offering all-you-can-eat ribs and curry chicken for $19.95 on Jan. 21, with half the proceeds going to Haitian relief. And not to be outdone by its fellow mobile phone network providers to the north, Digicel has made it possible for its Caribbean customers to text “HELP” to 5151 to donate $1 directly to the Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund. 
Among specific national and institutional activities,
•    Belize is providing clothing, food, military manpower;
•    Bermuda placed the use of a 12-seater aircraft at the Community’s disposal;
•    The Caribbean Development Bank arranged an Emergency Grant of $200,000; $200,000 for portable water, food, medicines and temporary shelter; $500,000 for the restoration of “critical facilities and services;”
•    Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, the Regional Security System, the Caricom Secretariat, Caribbean Epidemiology Center/Pan American Health Organization and the Caribbean Media Corp. sent a joint assessment team to Haiti on Saturday to provide guidance for the immediate needs of the Haitian people;
•    Dominica extended the stay of Haitian workers already on island by six months;
•    Guyana is donating $1 million for humanitarian efforts;
•    The Virgin Islands deployed a search and rescue team;
•    Trinidad and Tobago: $1 million in immediate relief and will deploy one of its inter-island fast ferries to transport relief supplies.
On Friday, Caricom’s chairman, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, led a fact-finding mission to Haiti to assess the level of short- and long-term commitment that will be required of Caricom members. He was accompanied by Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson, Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington.

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