HelpAge responds to devastating earthquake in Haiti

Wednesday 13 January 2010

A massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake has struck Haiti.

The extent of the devastation is still not clear but HelpAge International staff on the ground indicate that thousands of people have died.

Haiti's worst quake in two centuries hit south of the capital Port-au-Prince and so far triggered two large aftershocks.

HelpAge International has a programme office based in Port-au-Prince and our staff are already on the ground beginning assessments.

"The slum areas of the city have been devastated as here the shelters are very poorly built and are built on vulnerable slopes. Many people are under the rubble," says Bertin Meance, programme manager of HelpAge in Haiti.

"Already we know that the greatest priority is search and rescue. After that the priority is to provide food, clean water, shelter and medical assistance to those most in need."

Bertin continues: "From what I have seen people are desperate for means of communication. They want to get in touch with family members and find out where people are, if their family is safe. Older people are already displaying severe trauma. Many are homeless and are already congregating in open spaces such as football pitches for safety and protection."   

HelpAge are deploying our emergency team to Haiti within the next 24 hours. Our emergency response will be supported by our international sister organisations HelpAge USA, HelpAge Germany, and in the UK, Age Concern and Help the Aged

HelpAge has been working in Haiti in recent years with local partners helping communities prepare for natural disasters and in reducing the risks of a disaster.

Most of this work, however, has focused on the more obvious risk to Haiti - that of hurricanes. Haiti has little recent experience or preparedness for such a devastating earthquake.

"We are hoping that HelpAge International and its local partners can call on some of these preparation plans and response systems put in place to deal with hurricanes," says Sarah Packwood, Emergency Programme Coordinator, who is being deployed as part of our Emergency Response Team on Thursday 14 January.

In 2009 HelpAge prepared radio broadcast messages on disaster preparedness, reminding community members to remember older people in their communities who may need assistance in the event of a disaster.

"Many of the vulnerable communities we have worked with and trained over recent years felt much more able to protect themselves in the event of natural disasters," says Sarah Packwood.

"This earthquake however will test local capacity to its limits and a large scale international response will be very necessary."

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Notes to Editors

In Haiti, there are around 800,000 people over 60, a figure much higher than elsewhere in the Caribbean region. 

In a country where three quarters of the population live in very precarious economic conditions (on less than US$1 per day), this population can be weakened by physical, social and economic vulnerabilities related to age.

Since resources are often limited in Haiti, government and donors do not focus specifically on the needs of older people. HelpAge's work in Haiti has recently focused on making sure humanitarian agencies working in Haiti include older people in Disaster Risk Reduction Plans (DRR).

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. www.helpage.org.

For more information about our Haiti Emergency Response and spokespeople contact Rosaleen Cunningham, Media Coordinator on +44 (0) 207 1487623 or rcunningham@helpage.org

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