Operation Unified Response transitions to Haitian self-sustainment
February 2, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Feb. 1, 2010) -- Joint Task Force - Haiti is beginning to transition to the next phase of its involvement in Operation Unified Response, following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the island nation of Haiti about two weeks ago, said Col. Gregory Kane, the JTF-H and XVIII Airborne Corps operations officer, today.
"The first couple weeks that we were here on the ground, our primary concerns were distributing food and water to the displaced persons," Kane said, "and performing search and rescue operations. Now we are slowly transitioning from that."
The non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti have control on food and water distribution, Kane said. Now the JTF-H is starting to transition its efforts to getting people shelter and building up the medical capacity of the Haitian government, as well as the NGO's that are currently providing medical care, he added.
"According to the United States Agency for International Development and NGO's, we have really turned the tide for getting food and water out to those who most need it," he said, "there are still pockets out there that are in need of food and we are identifying those and we are trying to get emergency food and water out there."
Having moved away from daily rations, JTF-H continues to support food distribution and is working with the World Food Program's long term ration program.
"We are pushing out 15 days of rations at a time in an organized manner," said Kane. "When the program is fully underway there with be 15 distribution points throughout the cities of Port-au-Prince and Carrefour and it will be delivering 75 tons of food per day to the people in those areas," he said.
For the most part, food and water distribution is in the sustainment phase.
"It's the shelter that has become our number one priority and it's also the USAID's and the government of Haiti's number one priority as well," Kane said. "We are trying to get the people of Haiti something a little more substantial to live in prior to the rainy season coming on."
"When the rains start here there will be flooding and we anticipate a lot of medical issues that come with wet weather," said Kane. "The more people we can get into shelters, the more people we can protect from the elements and the better off everyone will be."
Almost 20 days after the earthquake, there are still people coming to military medical facilities with injuries. Medical professionals are now seeing more secondary injuries and infections.
"Medicine will become critical for the long-term care of the population" Kane said. "People are living in close quarters and personal hygiene is most critical and because of the close quarters - you have a higher chance of a pandemic and communicable disease that would also be a risk to the population."
Early on the JTF-H leadership met with civic, religious and group leaders and got them involved with the planning and preparation of the reconstruction.
"When you get the local community leaders, these respected elders of the community involved, it is a lot better," said Kane. "Even in the temporary camps, displaced Haitians have attempted to restore the basics of cultural and civic structures to provide as a normal life as they can to people who have lost pretty much everything."
JTF-H, along with the USAID and the Haitian government, has been putting out public information focused on personal hygiene and drinking water from safe, clean sources.
"These are the basics of what Soldiers do all the time," said Kane. We live "out in the field in these rough conditions and we are hoping to impart this knowledge to the local population by using civil leaders and local radio stations to get this message out so that the Haitian people understand the steps that need to be taken to protect themselves and their families."
On Jan. 31, the JTF-H and its partners set up an aftercare center comprised of 750 cots and 40 tents, with the necessary medical personnel to care for patients.
"This is a place where patients who have had surgeries on the USNS Comfort are moved to and allowed to recuperate," said Kane.
"The Comfort is superbly staffed and designed to perform lifesaving surgeries - they have 20 operating rooms and a dedicated staff of almost 400 doctors, nurses, corpsmen and they have been doing a phenomenal job. Last count I heard 710 patients treated aboard and over 300 surgeries in the last 14 days or so - but, those beds are at a premium," Kane said.
"If we can move those after-care patients off the Comfort and move them to a place that they have great medical care and a place to recuperate, that opens up a bed on the Comfort to bring someone who needs an important surgery," Kane said.
"We are doing prudent planning, and looking to the next phase, said Kane. Phase one was getting humanitarian response and disaster relief to the Haitian people. Phase two is the phase where the basic needs are met, and we work with our partners to deliver medical support along with food and water."
"Phase three is where we are out of a job", said Kane. That is when the military-to-civilian transition begins and the civilians - the people of Haiti, along with NGOs, take the responsibility of rebuilding their homeland.