Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Disaster that no one Noticed

The more I look, the more convinced I am becoming that the world just missed that Haiti suffered four major hurricanes and tropical storms in a period of two weeks this past summer. There has been some news coverage of those crushing events trickling its way onto the American news media in recent months, but for the most part, no one seemed to notice.

Debbie Lucien of Hosean International Ministries (HIM) in Haiti confirmed that when I spoke with her yesterday that the world seemed to miss it. Speaking from Little Rock, where she has been on furlough for the past 10 days, she said, “Immediately after the storms, missionaries in Haiti began to spread the word as best we could of the suffering and damage, and a lot of our supporters responded, both individuals and churches.

“But now that I am in the U.S., when I talk about the storms, I realize that few people know what happened. When I talk about it, most people are completely unaware.

“There was just no mechanism for people to know more about what happened. I even sent photos to Fox News and said, ‘You need to report this!’ But they were all tied up with the campaigns and such. So unless churches had pre-existing contacts on the ground in Haiti, they really have not heard much.”

In case you missed it, too, here is what happened:

“The death toll from a string of hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti has risen to nearly 800 people… Heavy rainfall from four major storms in August and September created fatal flooding and mudslides...

“Tropical Storm Fay caused flooding and significant damage when it hit the impoverished island nation. Heavy rains from Hurricane Gustav, considered a major hurricane, caused destructive mudslides after it made landfall in Haiti on August 26, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Tropical Storm Hanna passed over northern Haiti in early September, bringing heavy rain and flooding. Ike, another major hurricane, caused flooding and mudslides.” (Source: CNN)

And here is an article worth reading by actress and philanthropist Mia Farrow, who has traveled extensively as an ambassador for UNICEF.

Debbie Lucien explains that because the four storms all hit different areas of the small Caribbean nation, this disaster was more widespread than previous Haitian disasters. “My husband Caleb (who is a native Haitian in his 40s) says that this is the first time he has ever seen a disaster all across the country at once. Almost every community was drastically affected.” Caleb is above in the bright yellow shirt and below in the white shirt.

The worst hit was the area around the costal city Gonaïves [GUHN-aye-EVE]; with 250,000+ residents, it is the nation’s fourth largest city. When Hurricane Hanna arrived, Haiti was already rain-saturated by Fay and Gustav. “Hanna just sat above Haiti for three or four days,” recalls Debbie. “Caleb says that’s the most rain he’s ever seen in Haiti.”

“Five Rivers drain in Gonaïves,” she continues, “and whenever there is heavy flooding practically anywhere in Haiti, everything gets washed away in Gonaïves.”

Flooding and mudslides followed, with nearly the entire city flooded with water as high as 6 ½ feet deep. (Source: Wikipedia) That left the city covered with 98.8 million cubic feet of mud. (Source: United Nations)

Click here to see a video that Caleb Lucien shot of Gonaïves when he arrived there after the storms, and here for photos. Debbie tells me that they withheld the images that were especially difficult to see.

Debbie continues explaining about Gonaïves: “Independent missionaries were among the first responders to the hurricane victims. It’s not like it is here [in the U.S.]… there is no FEMA, no shelters set up, and in many cases the only protection that people have from the elements is tarps supported by sticks in the ground. And so the missionaries were (and still are) involved in food and shelter distribution, refugee evacuation, and doing whatever we can for the people there.

“At one point trip and, the American embassy asked us to make a food and water delivery to an American near Gonaïves who operates an orphanage of about 30 to 40 kids. Caleb was in Gonaives, and arranged supplies to be taken there, and they were very low and running out when the team got there. People can go for a while without food, but you can’t last long without water.”

The needs are still great in Gonaïves and across Haiti. The UN's World Food Program has still only raised 30.4% of its funding requirements for food, and 40,000 people are still living in shelters with no structural organization support. That means that the missionaries are still playing a major role in distributing aid to those in need.

Consider making a donation to support their work of caring for these people made in God’s image. Or think about making a fund appeal at your church. Maybe do a live telephone interview with a missionary in Haiti during your Sunday morning service. Or consider going (or leading a team) to help them in person for a bit. “Short term is really important,” affirms Debbie.

She concludes: “People who already had contacts in Haiti were able to make the quickest difference [after the hurricanes]… Encourage folks to find out how many leaders [of local ministries] are nationals, as they typically are more efficient in delivery of help. For foreigners/missionaries to be effective, we need to really have equal partnerships with the national church.”

Check out some of these really cool links of what God’s people are doing on the ground, all of which Debbie Lucien recommends as worth supporting or partnering with:

• Gifts can be made to HIM online via paypal. Debbie says, “Folks can give to ‘hurricane relief’ and we can get the funds and supplies there within days. Hours, if we are doing a transfer that day.

Here’s a really fun video of a Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) team making a mountaintop drop for the people in a remote Haitian village.

Missionary Flights International is a private non-profit service to Christian missions serving in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s starving children hungry in body and spirit.

MAP International (Medical Assistance Programs) promotes the total health of people living in the world's poorest communities by partnering in the provision of essential medicines, promotion of community health development and prevention and mitigation of disease, disaster and other health threats.

PS Thanks to Greg Van Schoyck of the Haitian American Friendship Foundation (HAFF) for helping me acquire contacts in Haiti. HAFF enables Haitians in the Central Plateau of Haiti through academic, vocational and theological education to enrich their culture socially, economically and spiritually, all to the glory of God. They are not doing hurricane releif, but they are still worth your support, prayers and partnership.

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