TORONTO — The massive earthquake that has toppled buildings and cost untold lives in Haiti has also dealt a staggering blow to a prominent international aid organization, which is struggling to help the injured without the benefit of a single hospital.
The 7.0-magnitude quake incapacitated all three Doctors Without Borders medical facilities around the capital of Port-Au-Prince, the group said Wednesday, causing one to collapse completely and rendering the other two so unstable that they had to be abandoned.
Workers scrambled to set up temporary shelters, where they are now dealing with an influx of seriously wounded quake victims, Paul McPhun, a member of the organization’s emergency management team, told a conference call.
The lack of infrastructure has made it impossible for staff to provide adequate treatment, he said.
“The best we can offer them at the moment is first aid care and stabilization,” McPhun said.
“The reality of what we’re facing is severe traumas: head wounds, crushed limbs, severe problems that cannot be dealt with with the level of medical care that we currently have available with no infrastructure, really, to support it.”
The organization’s first priority is to re-establish facilities that will enable staff to perform surgeries and other more intensive procedures, McPhun said. There may be some relatively undamaged buildings that could be converted into a hospital, he added.
Jean-Pierre Tachereau, the Ottawa-based head of emergency response for the Canadian Red Cross, said Wednesday he will head the humanitarian agency’s international team being airlifted into the earthquake-ravaged country.
Their picture of the situation on the ground is still unclear because the power grid is mostly down and the agency is only getting bits and pieces of information, he acknowledged.
The initial Red Cross team will include about 60 volunteers from 10 different countries; teams from Europe, the United States and Canada are being mobilized with special equipment, including portable water and sanitation treatment plants, Tachereau said.
The team will likely have to fly into the nearby Dominican Republic and then drive across the border.
The Canadian Red Cross has set an initial fundraising goal of $2 million and Tachereau says the public can get more information on donating at the agency’s Web site.
Tuesday’s quake, thought to be the largest the impoverished country has seen in more than 200 years, knocked out telephone and power lines throughout Port-Au-Prince.
Communication with people in Haiti has been difficult, and McPhun said the organization is still trying to develop an accurate picture of the severity of the situation on the ground. Thousands are feared dead.
For Doctors Without Borders, the task of tending to the wounded is complicated by the fact that they cannot yet account for all of its own staff members.
McPhun said the group has not been able to confirm the safety of all 800 of its workers in the country, a number that includes about 30 international staff. He declined to provide further details.
Doctors Without Borders has already identified about 70 volunteers that will be coming to Haiti in the coming days to shore up existing resources, though he acknowledged that their arrival may be delayed due to the damage at Haiti’s airport and on roads throughout the capital.
Despite the lack of information, plans to co-ordinate aid to the stricken region were already getting underway Wednesday morning. Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda said Ottawa would be providing up to $5 million for “urgent humanitarian assistance.”
“Our government is deeply concerned about the impact of the earthquake and we want to ensure that the immediate basic needs of the Haitian people are met quickly and effectively,” Oda said in a statement.
“In the face of so much devastation, we will continue to work closely with local authorities, international organizations and UN agencies to help bring relief to those affected and provide support as people rebuild their lives and communities.”
Haiti is the largest recipient of Canadian development assistance in the Americas and is currently the Canadian International Development Agency’s second-largest development program.