SOUTHEASTERN HAITI -- Numerous helicopters circle the skies above Haiti’s flooded, mountainous southeastern region. Their shadows appear warped in the immense ponds of stagnant, muddy water created by the tropical rainstorms that plagued the region only days before.
Passengers peer out of the helicopters, looking down upon a landscape of quagmires and what remains of villagers’ huts protruding from the sun-baked mud and boulders. The torrential rains reduced rich corn fields to barren stalks protruding from the water and mere husks strewn about various areas. Where once stood a farmer’s straw thatch hovel, now only its roof remains visible, its four walls buried in sediment.
As the helicopters descend toward the scene of the destruction, the stench of decay permeates the air. The passengers cover their noses and mouths to avoid becoming ill.
The Canadian Griffon, carrying members of non-governmental organizations, lands in a grassy clearing as an Army UH-60 Blackhawk, slung with a load of fresh water and foodstuffs, bears down on the devastated village of Mapou.
The Blackhawk drops off its cargo then lands, while United States Marines establish perimeter security.
Some designated villagers begin tearing off the cargo netting and sort through the bags of beans provided by the Chilean forces.
French civil affairs specialists, members of the Haitian National Police and various NGO workers step off the Griffon, making their way into the crowd of villagers.
Utilizing the help of translators and some Mapou locals, the HNP and Multinational Interim Force-Haiti personnel organize the crowd into lines in preparation for the distribution of food.
Two days prior, MIFH forces faced similar conditions as they landed in the flood-ravaged community of Fond Verrettes, where the floodwater had torn the community asunder.
MIFH brought a United Nations damage assessment team and the HNP to supply the villagers with food and water.
“MIFH responded to aid the villages of Mapou, Thiote and Fond Verrettes,” said Marine Lt. Col. Ernest Garcia, MIFH’s civil affairs officer-in-charge. “We did an initial response effort in Fond Verrettes (May 25) by supplying the villagers with their basic needs, like food, water and some medical care. I think the villagers really appreciated it.”
“The people were very happy with the aid that you’ve provided,” said Fond Verrette local Emanuel Ilan, agreeing with Garcia. “Before, there was no water to drink.”
Pierre, another resident of Fond Verrette, said he was also overjoyed to see MIFH forces helping his people out.
“It is good to see (the MIFH) helping us out with needed water,” he stated.
Military helicopters flew in 18,000 liters of fresh water and 10 pallets each of bread and fruit to Fond Verrette as the initial aid. MIFH continued to fly in aid to the villages for the next several days as well, Garcia added.
Although the military personnel provided the first supplies, NGOs provided the majority of follow-on aid, he continued.
“Working with NGOs like World Food Program, UNICEF and Doctors without Borders has been great,” Garcia said. “We’re using MIFH’s air assets to transport their personnel and supplies to the disaster sites. It’s truly a team effort between the NGOs and MIFH.”
Marine Lt. Col. Duane Perry, MIFH officer-in-charge of ground operations in Mapou, said the collaboration between the UN, NGOs and MIF- Haiti forces reflects highly upon the UN-MIFH partnership.
“The coordination effort on this end lends a lot of credibility to the UN transition effort,” he stated. “It goes to show that people can work together and get the mission accomplished.”
Perry also said MIFH personnel have supplied and distributed tons of rice, beans, cooking oil and wheat to the villagers, although NGOs supplied most of the aid.
Aside from food and water, NGOs have provided 13 tons of miscellaneous supplies including hygiene kits, cooking utensils and medication.
Military medical personnel worked alongside doctors from the Red Cross to administer basic medical care to the injured.
The MIFH has also assisted in medically evacuating flood victims suffering from life-threatening injuries.
“Our quick response in medically evacuating a woman from Mapou may have helped save her life,” said Navy Ensign Brad McLaughlin, a physician with Charlie Surgical Company. “She had a severe infected laceration on her forearm, so we evacuated her and transported her to the St. Francois des Sale hospital in Port-au-Prince.”
Charlie Surgical Company also treated a boy from Mapou with a severe scalp laceration.
McLaughlin said that MIFH medical personnel have worked effectively alongside NGO doctors, and that NGO resources help to augment the MIFH’s limited treatment capabilities.
“The Red Cross set up a small clinic in Mapou,” Perry stated. “MIFH’s ability to treat flood victims is limited, but we’re happy to be able to assist the Red Cross in whatever way we can.”
Perry also said that while the MIF and the NGOs have greatly helped out the village communities, much work remains to be done.
“The HNP and the government of Haiti must work to rebuild roads and improve sanitation,” he said. “(The MIF and NGOs) have helped out the villagers, and the Haitian government must continue to help them.”
“What we hope to do now is to integrate the Haitian government and the UN so they can take over the relief effort,” Garcia added.
To date, MIFH helicopters have delivered 153 tons of food, 20,000 gallons of water and 13 tons of non-food items, such as hygiene products and medicine, to the three villages. UN and NGO relief efforts continue in the areas affected by the tropical rainstorms.