Op-Ed

Red Cross remains committed to Haiti

EARLY DAYS: An American Red Cross volunteer examines a victim of Haiti’s earthquake in the days immediately after the tragedy.
EARLY DAYS: An American Red Cross volunteer examines a victim of Haiti’s earthquake in the days immediately after the tragedy. AP

As with any story, there is more than one side to the recent controversy over the activities and intentions of the Red Cross in helping the Haitian people recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake. A ProPublica/NPR report that was repeated in a recent Carl Hiaasen column fails to give a complete account of work done by the Red Cross following that tragedy.

In full disclosure, I was not a part of the Red Cross during the Haiti earthquake; however, I have been personally involved in mission work to Haiti for more than 12 years. I was in Haiti after the earthquake and saw firsthand the tremendous work of the Red Cross. Others who were there during and after the earthquake also have been voicing their support for the Red Cross, including Partners in Health, Project Medishare and actor and humanitarian Sean Penn.

The unbalanced accusations in these stories were taken especially hard by those of us who serve South Florida, home to the largest Haitian-American community outside of Haiti, many of whom are volunteers and employees of the Red Cross. In fact, our local staff and volunteers worked diligently to support our response to the Haiti quake, which affected so many people that we know personally.

Hiaasen and ProPublica/NPR’s characterizing contributions dedicated to help Haiti as a “windfall” for the Red Cross gives the misleading impression that the money raised was not applied to assist the Haitian people. That just is not true.

The Red Cross raised $488 million for our work in Haiti and the funds were allocated to:

▪ Emergency relief: $66 million

▪ Shelter: $173 million

▪ Health: $73 million

▪ Water and sanitation: $47 million

▪ Livelihoods: $48 million

▪ Disaster preparedness: $56 million

▪ Cholera prevention: $25 million

Key examples of how the donated funds were applied in Haiti include helping to build and operate hospitals and clinics, providing clean water and sanitation, engaging in job training that put Haitians back to work, relocating more than 100,000 people out of make-shift tents into safe and improved housing. We helped build and repair infrastructure that was vital to neighborhood recovery, e.g. schools, roadways and water distribution points.

Very disturbing was the innuendo that 6,000 people died of cholera because of the Red Cross. The reality is that the Red Cross helped to stem a deadly cholera outbreak, sending life-saving supplies within 72 hours and immediately launching cholera prevention education activities. The outbreak would have been far worse without our involvement.

It’s important to note that Red Cross services were provided with vital input from local Haitian communities. We worked closely with those affected by the earthquake on how we should prioritize the allocation of these funds. The Hiaasen column failed to mention that 90 percent of our staff on the ground was, and is, Haitian. Locally, South Florida sent 60 Haitian-Americans from among our volunteer ranks to the U.S.N.S. Comfort medical ship to support their operations.

Shortly after the earthquake, the Red Cross planned to build many permanent homes. As we worked toward that end, we found that it was impossible to get clear land tenure where we wanted to build the homes. So we had a choice; spend years trying to resolve the ownership issues or provide immediate housing relief. We decided upon the latter course of action.

What often happens in the aftermath of disaster is that plans change because of unexpected obstacles. In this case, we were coping with a serious cholera epidemic, severely damaged infrastructure that hindered the distribution of relief supplies, and contested ownership issues on the properties where homes were scheduled to be built. Using input from the local communities in Haiti, we made decisions that helped save the lives of many people.

One thing remains constant and that is our commitment to Haiti.

Years prior to the earthquake, Red Cross was participating in several programs such as HIV education. The Red Cross was there when the earthquake hit and has remained there, five years later, continuing to provide humanitarian relief — an endeavor of which we are proud.

The American Red Cross always welcomes constructive public input on ways we can be more responsive and impactful. We never take for granted the public’s trust bestowed upon us to help survivors of disasters. Locally, the Red Cross is also here before, during and after all disasters, whether hurricanes or single family fires. We are here for the entire community, and we invite the entire community to become a part of our humanitarian mission.

Alfred Sanchez is the regional chief executive officer of the American Red Cross.

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