Working shoulder to shoulder in Hispaniola

تم النشر: 9 يونيو 2004 0:00 CET

Alejandra Arauz in Pedernales

In the town of Pedernales, on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Red Cross principle of Universality is clearly understood.

Not only have both countries been badly hit by severe flooding, but volunteers from their national Red Cross Societies have joined together to respond to the needs of those affected.

One of the lessons learned after almost any disaster, is to strengthen the capacities of those who respond to the situation, or who are involved in reconstruction activities.

That is certainly what is happening in Pedernales, where a small, young branch of the Dominican Red Cross is working together with its peer across the border, the Haitian Red Cross branch in Anse-à-Pitres.

Ever since the heavy rains, floods and landslides that hit southern areas of the island of Hispaniola three weeks ago, volunteers have overcome the language barrier and the distance from their respective capitals to work together to help affected families.

The International Federation has launched an appeal for 2.4 million Swiss francs to help 25,000 people in the two countries, with the immediate priorities being to provide shelter and safe drinking water.

Some 2,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster, with hundreds more still unaccounted for.

“After the rains occurred we started with the clean-up and the damage assessment, going door to door and noting the names of people who had lost relatives, belongings or livestock. We made a preliminary report and sent it to Port-au-Prince,” explains Rene Jasmin, a volunteer of six years standing and vice president of the Anse-a-Pitres branch of the Haitian Red Cross.

“Together, with the volunteers from Pedernales, we are helping to deliver the goods that the Federation is sending to the affected areas,” he adds, pointing out that the biggest challenge is the lack of road access as a result of the floods and the mudslides.

“We would like to receive training in disaster preparedness. Here we really need it, because we are not yet well prepared.”

That message is repeated by Liccé Laloi, one of the more than 100 volunteers from the towns of Banano, Buardom, Anse-a-Pitres and surrounding towns:

“Here we don’t have many means of getting information and when something is going to happen, like a hurricane, the Dominican Red Cross branch in Pedernales come and tell us.”

“When the floods occurred, they not only warned us, they were the very same persons who helped us deliver the medicines, food and water. We work shoulder by shoulder with them,” Liccé adds.

The Dominican Red Cross has a wide experience in managing relief operations.

Last November, floods hit northern provinces of the country and many branches were involved in the relief operation, in the process developing their experience of working with communities.

“On this side of the border the disaster wasn’t that bad. We only had one fatality here,” says Angel Jiménez, vice president of the Pedernales branch of the Dominican Red Cross.

“Our role in this phase of the relief operation has increased a lot since the Federation placed a warehouse in Pedernales to store the humanitarian aid that it is been sending by helicopter to Haiti.”

There is no doubt that links between the Dominican Red Cross and Haitian Red Cross branches in this border area are being strengthened through effective activities.

Hopefully this experience will strengthen disaster preparedness capacities, not only in these branches, but in others from both National Societies.

In the not to distant future, the implementation of an early warning system in the vulnerable communities, using low-cost monitoring equipment, is a priority.

At the same time, it is important to develop community workshops to raise awareness of disaster preparedness and train volunteers in crucial activities such as first aid and shelter management.