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Haiti's Ambassador On The Devastation And Aid Efforts After Earthquake


Haiti remains at the intersection of a deadly natural disaster, a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and a government in crisis. Search and rescue efforts continue after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday. That search went on pause as Tropical Storm Grace bore down on the region this week. About 1,900 lives have been lost, with at least 9,000 injured. Hospitals are overwhelmed. And all of this comes just weeks after the assassination of Haiti's president. For more on what lies ahead for this country, we're joined now by Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond. Ambassador, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BOCCHIT EDMOND: Good afternoon. Glad to be with you.

CHANG: So I just want to start by first asking you how the past few days have been for you seeing all that's happening in your country right now.

EDMOND: Yeah, it seems that we can't catch a break. So, you know, as you pointed out, recently, the assassination of the president. We're not even done yet. And we are facing this catastrophe - an earthquake in Haiti, this time hitting the southern part of Haiti and where those with very remote areas difficult to access. You know, it makes it very, very difficult. And added to that, we have that tropical depression depositing a lot of water on the same area. And that makes it difficult the work of the search and rescue workers.

CHANG: Right. What can you tell us at this point about how the search and rescue efforts are going, given the storm?

EDMOND: I think that's resumed. That's resumed. They are trying to - they are doing their best. And I believe the agents on the civil protections of Haiti, they are working hand-in-hand with the Fairfax - with the team from Fairfax, Va. And they are helping a lot. So far, they have not been lucky yet to get some survivor, but I believe they are working very hard to continue the search.

CHANG: Well, all of this, of course, has come just as your new prime minister, Ariel Henry, is trying to organize an election to elect a new president. Let me ask you, given that there has been so much instability in your country the last couple of months, how equipped do you think Haiti's government is to respond to this earthquake? Because our NPR colleague, Jason Beaubien, who is in Haiti right now, he's been hearing frustrations from people who say that so little aid has reached the quake zone.

EDMOND: That's the issue. I mean, this is very important to understand - for your audience to understand. Earthquake is not something you can, you know, expect, let's call it. You know that we - Haiti sits on a fault. But at the same time, we need to remember that the countries that already some lack of resources. Whenever one of those big event happen, we need to organize them ourselves. And so to make sure that - it might take a little time. I understand the frustration of my fellow citizens. I believe that they should have already been taken care of. But the fact of the matter is, most of them, most of those areas are very remote areas we had accessed access yesterday. We are very happy that the United States, I believe, brought eight helicopters down there from the Department of Defense and Southern Command in Miami. I think it's a good gesture. And that will certainly help us to reach those people and to assure of the distribution of this assistance.

CHANG: But if I may, I mean, you have said that you hope not to see a repeat of the mistakes that happened after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when a lot of aid just never reached the people who needed the aid. So what is being done differently this time around to avoid that, to make sure that aid does get to people in time?

EDMOND: Yeah. That's why the Ministry of Planning from the government asking all the NGOs that wish to participate in the rescue effort to register and to make sure that we coordinate better.

CHANG: To register - people need to register to receive aid? How do they do that when their homes are gone?

EDMOND: No. No. No. Because they already - those...

CHANG: They have been registered. OK.

EDMOND: Because we need to make sure that who are coming and who or when - you know, because the issue in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, everybody came out at the same time. We are flooded with NGOs. At the end of the day, we couldn't organize anything. So now what we wish to see, we wish to have a well-coordinated effort. And at the same time, we understand the urgency of the matter. We understand that those victims that need to get - they need to be taken care of by receiving what we are bringing to them. But at the same time, it has to be done as an organized manner.

And that's why we are trying to coordinate with all NGOs - local, international - to make sure that we direct them where they should go. Because when everybody wants to go to one place, that's why you will hear voices saying that we have been victim. We haven't received anything because most of the time we tend to focus on one place or the big city and forget the rural areas. But that's what we want to avoid. That's why the Ministry of Planning wants to be in touch and to make sure that we check the organization and what are they offering and where the needs are so we can direct them exactly to those victims.

CHANG: OK. You have mentioned the U.S. has sent some aid, some search and rescue teams to Haiti. What other kind of help would you like to see from the U.S. at this point?

EDMOND: I believe there is a very important thing that we need now is the medical facility. I think yesterday the Defense Department had found out that two hospitals, makeshift hospital are being put together later before the end of this week so they can help and treatment and the care giving to those victims. So it's very important because now we need much more, you know, medical attention, medical equipment. And all those things would certainly help us to save more lives because there are some very serious injuries. We need to take care of them. And therefore, it's very important to request medical equipments, medical - all medical things that can help to strengthen the capacity of those local hospital and nurses and doctors.

CHANG: That is Bocchit Edmond, Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. Thank you very much for joining us today.

EDMOND: It's a pleasure to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.