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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fifth LWR Post--Critical Issues in Haiti

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the 26th of January, and I’m somewhere over the Caribbean en route to Miami. I’m tired. I’m filled with anxiety as we move toward the next phase of disaster relief for Haiti.

The assessment team was present with the Haitian Lutherans. The team listened. The team saw what needed to be seen. Those of us who remained working in Jimani at the hospital have a very clear understanding of the medical issues that will be faced as we move to establish a temporary hospital in Jamal, which is the heart of the Lutheran area in Haiti and the heart of an area underserved. Working with the Dominican World Mission team, we have a boat contracted to bring tents specifically requested by the partner church, including larger tents for hospitals, examination rooms, etc. A second Mercy Medical Team (MMT) will hit the ground in Jacmel on Sunday. They will immediately begin treating wounds related to trauma, especially orthopedic issues. We know from our medical teams and from the consultation provided by Jimani MMT member, Dr. William Maloney (from whose report I am borrowing liberally), that there is a four- to six-week period to properly treat broken bones, reset poorly treated breaks, and treat infections and infected amputations in order to avoid longer term complications.

Childhood mortality from infectious disease will be on the increase due to the weakened state of many children who were already in a situation of compromised health before the quake. This will require an immediate vaccination effort. A mortality rate of as high as 30% can result in such situations. There is an immediate need for vitamin supplementation for at-risk children. Cholera, measles, and meningitis outbreaks are likely and will need to be treated immediately. Acute malnutrition is likely for many, particularly due to the rapid increase in the number of orphans, loss of income, family disruptions, etc. LCMS World Relief will assist the local Hatian church in establishing food distribution in cooperation and coordination with the local congregations, and in proximity to the clinic(s). By the way, from all indications there is an abundance of available food in the Dominican, and every dollar saved on shipping costs buys another dollar of rice or beans while contributing to the local economies of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At the suggestion of President Kessa, and with the help of Ted Krey, we have secured a boat for regular food shipment from Santiago to Jacmel.

Over the period of 2-6 months there will be an overwhelming need for physical therapy, pastoral care and counseling, prosthetics, rehab, etc. The high number of amputations will require an aggressive prosthetics program. Traveling to developing countries (and this is especially true of Haiti) one notices many individuals who have been handicapped by injury or birth defect, who live life begging and in squalor, having little or usually no recourse to prosthetics and other treatment we take for granted in the U.S. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling and training will be widely needed, particularly for Haitian Lutheran clergy, health workers, aid workers, and others.

Vocational assistance and housing will be long-term issues. It remains to be seen whether and what housing solutions come to the fore. There will no doubt be a large hodgepodge of housing solutions, most driven by the ingenuity and need of locals, but likely with relatively few dwellings being built with materials and methods meant to withstand future quakes. I well recall tent cities in many areas affected by the great Asian Tsunami that lasted for years. Micro-loan programs have been operated by LWR, LCMS World Relief, and many partners for decades and will be especially necessary in this situation. We must make every effort to train, serve, and encourage talented and eager Haitians, of which there is no shortage. They themselves are now, and will be, the key force behind this effort at recovery. And these very talented individuals will arise from unlikely and very surprising places. It is they who hold the key to the future recovery and long-term improvement in their own country. LWR school and medical kits will be vital treasures for months and months to come.

I noticed something while studying Jesus’ actions to assist those in need. When the text uses the great word for “compassion” (
splachnizesthai) of Jesus, his concern for the needy never stops a mere empathy. Jesus always acts. He never fails to act. So shall American Lutherans. Help us come alongside our old and soon to be new Haitian friends. Thrivent is offering matching dollars for gifts to LCMS World Relief, and to LWR. The Lutheran Foundation in St. Louis is now matching gifts to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, offering to match up to $6,000 in donations from each of its 65 member congregations!

Pastor Matthew Harrison
Executive Director, LCMS World Relief and Human Care
Board Member, LWR

Rev. Ted Krey, nephew of an LWR Board Member, distributes food in Jimani.

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