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Matthew's Wrath, The Diaspora's Response

By Lesly Kernisant, M.D., FACOG

Hurricane Matthew's path to Haiti

Once again, Haiti was hit repeatedly by the battering ram of a category 4 hurricane. In its destructive path, it has flattened many homes, destroyed many roads and cut short many lives, young and old. A state of emergency has been declared and a call for help was again heard from the crying souls of the motherland to all its concerned compatriots outside the mainland.


As with all previous natural disasters, the response thus far has been positive. In the Diaspora, the outpouring of sympathy dominated our local airwaves through special news programs and editorials. Our unwavering sense of patriotism was proudly displayed through our generous gifts of time, money and other services. I was particularly moved by the automatic show of support by so many well established, central and regional organizations that, for years, have used their meager resources to answer the desperate call for help. Understandably, there is also a large number of individuals, social and professional organizations that are compelled to act realizing the monstrous enormity of this hurricane. I also encourage them to properly vet the authenticity of some self-proclaimed relief groups before doing so. Be careful, your good intentions can easily be torpedoed by unsavory characters converting natural disasters into self-serving opportunities.

A look at some damages in the south of Haiti

Relief efforts to Haiti

I also urge all of us to put aside our socio-political differences to tackle this human tragedy caused by the combined effects of raging waters and tempestuous winds. The actual damage estimates are mind-boggling. At the early stage of the search and rescue mission in the southern region of the country, eyewitness account of the local catastrophe reports more than 800 deaths, 200 destroyed school buildings, 2000 homes flooded and more than 60,000 in unsafe and unsteady shelters. This is an alarmingly desperate situation. We all need to brainstorm and come up with a quick solution to address the most pressing needs of the people: food, water and shelter. In my view, the most expeditious way to achieve immediate relief is to use existing regional philanthropies by contributing money, medicine and clothes.


The idea of forming de novo missionary groups unfamiliar with the affected areas may be a good idea, but can also be counterproductive at a time of indiscriminate chaos and confusion. An elective medical mission requires a completely different kind of preparation than a disaster relief mission. The logistics supporting the rescue efforts are by far more complex. They include not only the health aspect, but also environmental and socio-demographic challenges that can turn a well-intended medical mission into a worthless use of a precious professional workforce. With a growing number of new medical graduates from 3 medical schools in Haiti added to those from Cuba and Santo Domingo, Haiti's medical personnel is amply qualified to handle rescue missions. These remote areas can be accessed much faster and cheaper than the expenses and challenges associated with most successful medical missions.


Of course, this should give us pause as to the need for a more permanent disaster relief force capable of search and rescue. To be a truly effective Diaspora response unit, we must have the ability to distribute food and non-food items, provide temporary shelters, handle transportation and communication, assure protection and sanitation, address health and environmental issues facing the displaced population. That will require a serious discussion followed by concrete steps leading to consolidation, collaboration and ultimate implementation, so we can be ready for the next natural disaster that is bound to hit our country in the foreseeable future.


Lesly Kernisant, M.D., FACOG


Last Updated 10/13/2016

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