Within 24 hours of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hitting southern Haiti, disaster nonprofit Airlink and its partners Mobile Medics International, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines had 4 medical volunteers on their way to Jeremie, Haiti, to bolster overwhelmed local health services.
Airlink and its network of airline and nonprofit partners have coordinated the first movement of medical volunteers to Haiti in response to the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Local health systems have reported being overwhelmed by demand. Official estimates have reported 5,700 injured, on top of 1,300 confirmed fatalities. This is the first movement of what Airlink estimates will be a significant response that is likely to last for months, and possibly years, in order to repair local infrastructure.
Airlink has experience organizing and delivering aid to Haiti following past natural disasters. In 2016, it coordinated flights for responders and the airlift of humanitarian cargo in response to Category 5 Hurricane Matthew. Prior to that, in 2010, Airlink led the movement of humanitarian aid and responders after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and resulted in an estimated 200,000 casualties. In that latter response, Airlink, working with a network of airline and NGO partners, coordinated the movement of 2,000 doctors and nurses and more than 40 shipments of aid totaling over 500,000 pounds.
“We are preparing for a sustained response over many months,” said Airlink President and CEO, Steven J. Smith. “At this stage, the disaster response community is assessing need, compiling inventory of humanitarian aid and forming teams of responders. We anticipate and are planning for a considerable movement of aid, beginning over the next few days and weeks. However, equally critical to recovery will be support for the country over the medium and long-term, which we estimate could run over months, even years.”
Airlink provides free and heavily subsidized flights and airlift for humanitarian cargo to a network of 120 pre-approved NGOs and nonprofits, as well as providing support for logistical coordination. In response to disasters logistical management is a critical component. It is estimated that 60% of donated items arriving at disaster sites cannot be used immediately, congesting transport hubs, with leftover goods having to be destroyed at the host country’s expense.
“Cooperation, communication, and planning is critical. Shelter, health, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) will be top priorities, especially in light of COVID-19 and the endemicity of cholera in the country,” said Stephanie Steege, Airlink’s Director of Humanitarian Programs.“Of course, the global pandemic complicates any response and recovery effort, particularly in regard to keeping both displaced people and responders safe. Where Airlink’s work is most important is in coordinating logistics and transport for international NGOs. We know from our response in 2016 to Hurricane Matthew that last-mile transportation is a challenge following disasters on the southern peninsula of Haiti, and this will become even more difficult after Tropical Storm Grace has passed. We’re already coordinating with more than 30 NGOs to identify and fill gaps in transportation that will help them reach impacted communities and move towards recovery quickly.