By Mariko Hall, Consultant, Advocacy (IT Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch)

Twenty hours after Haiti’s devastating earthquake struck, fear, stress and confusion filled the air. People were grieving for their loved ones whose lives had been taken or were frantically searching for those who were still unaccounted for. Their every possession had been lost and their homes, if still standing, were not safe to enter. Even in this bleak situation, WFP staff, national and international, reported for duty and continued to carry out their roles as humanitarian aid workers.

The hours that followed the earthquake were extremely traumatic for the team. WFP IT Officer, Nasir Khan has been posted in Haiti since 2008 and was in Port au Prince at the time of the earthquake. “When we went outside on to the street after the earthquake,” said Nasir “all we could see was death and all we could hear were people shouting and screaming and crying”.

“We started looking for our colleagues but everybody was in shock and didn’t really know where to start. We wanted to walk to open ground but all the roads were blocked because walls and poles had fallen down.”

The WFP team congregated by the entrance gate to the compound. After the earthquake, families of injured people brought them to the UN compound in the hope that they could get some medical assistance. “There were hundreds of people lying around with all sorts of injuries. People were lying there with open wounds. We had no medical supplies because all our first aid kits were inside the building. That night all we could do was sit there – no one slept at all.”

 The following day, medical supplies arrived and staff with training bandaged up those they could.

“They had managed to open up some roads so the next day we were all relocated in a UN truck to the logistics base by the airport. Along the way, all we could see was collapsed buildings and dead bodies. I have never seen anything like it before. Houses, offices, malls, everything had collapsed.”

Two days after the earthquake, Nasir and the team salvaged IT equipment, such as laptops and radios, from the wreckage of the storage room so that they could start working. Internet connectivity had been restored by United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and with their help, Nasir and the IT team were able to begin to restore basic telecommunications.

 Now, over a week since the earthquake, the IT team consists of 13 additional staff brought in to respond to the emergency, as well as a number of national staff who, despite their losses, are continuing to contribute to the team.

FITTEST specialist, William Twyford, is one of the additional IT staff currently in Port au Prince. “It’s amazing to see them turn up to work even though they’ve got such horrible circumstance at home. Many of them have lost or missing family members and have no houses. They are literally sleeping on streets at night. Nadege, Romel, Carhmell: they’re under a lot of pressure but they’re holding up.”

“All staff have flexible hours,” said William. “When they can be here, they are, and they work hard and very professionally – we are very proud of them all.”

Humanitarian workers are driven by one prevailing goal – to help those in need. Even in times of immense suffering and hardship, this goal unites and motivates. The WFP staff in Haiti are a worthy testament to this. Their efforts, their passion, their enthusiasm and their motivation are truly admirable.

Despite massive logistical challenges, since the earthquake struck, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization, already has delivered 2.6 million rations, the equivalent of nearly 8 million meals, to nearly 400,000 people in Haiti. WFP aims to reach 100,000 people each day as the operation scales up.

This enormous logistical operation is supported by WFP’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) team. The UN Foundation, Vodafone Foundation and WFP are “Global Partners for Emergency Communications,” providing support for WFP’s emergency ICT preparedness and response, including financial support for this team’s emergency deployment to Haiti. More information is available at http://ictemergency.wfp.org. The UN Foundation supports UN Dispatch. 

image: WFP/Dane Novarlic

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