I’m pleased to publish a guest post today written by Frank Almaguer, US Ambassador to Honduras from 1999-2002, and a friend of mine for about 40 years. 

Frank and Antoinette were my neighbors in Washington DC while they were between Peace Corps assignments. We’ve been friends ever since. 

Both Almaguers gave many good years to the Peace Corps, working in several Central American countries and at headquarters in DC. Antoinette was the Haiti desk officer. Later, Frank served as a senior official for USAID at a number of posts in Central and South America.  

I visited the Almaguers in Panama while Frank was assistant director for USAID. We toured the countryside, and I remember an unusual housing project he was anxious to show me, where people could own their own land in what was once a shantytown on the edge of Panama City. Later, we all headed north for a weekend holiday, and visited a successful coffee coop perched high in the mountains near Costa Rica. These were typical of the economic development projects Frank oversaw for USAID, helping Panamanians help themselves. 

In 2004, he served as US delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Today, Frank is assistant secretary for the Secretariat for Administration and Finance for the Organization of American States, an international organization that grew out of the former Pan American Union, and whose members are the 35 independent states of the Americas, including Haiti. (Note: The OAS is not a US government agency.)

Antoinette, a regular reader of this blog, asked me to post this letter her husband sent out today to friends and family. It describes another on-the-ground charity you might want to donate to, directly:

Dear All:  

While we may get tired of all the solicitations that are going on around the world, every penny is badly needed. 

The text-messaging tool has been a tremendous way to mobilize resources.  However, those funds become available only when the donor pays his or her phone bill.  That could be a month or two from now. 

The urgency right now is for the basics in human survival: water, food, and sanitation. These things cannot wait!  

I am strongly recommending that you contribute whatever you can to the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the development and disaster relief foundation affiliated with the OAS.  

PADF, the natural disaster relief arm of the Organization of American States, has more than 150 people working in Haiti on economic development, disaster mitigation and protecting human rights. PADF is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C.

I am making this recommendation not because PADFis linked to my employer, OAS.  Rather, I know PADF's work and I have known its director, John Sanbrailo, for 30 years.  I can vouch for the integrity and commitment of the entire PADF staff, as well as for John's competence and compassion. I just transferred $100,000 to PADF from the OAS accounts.  

At this point, Exxon, FEDEX and Bank of America, among others, have made significant cash and in-kind contributions to PADF.  For example, early this morning, a FEDEX plane landed in Port-au-Prince delivering water purification supplies and medicines.

Their Web site is http://www.panamericanrelief.org, or call a special toll-free number to make a donation: (877) 572-4484.

By all accounts, this may be the single biggest natural disaster to afflict the Western Hemisphere in a century.  Every little bit helps.  Pass this on to others.

Love to all,

Read this on-the-ground report from the former director of PADF: http://padf.orchidsuites.net/sites/panamericanrelief.org/ht/d/sp/i/15428/pid/15428

Tracy Kidder wrote an op-ed for today’s New York Times. I’m posting it here in its entirety for your convenience, but you can find it at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/opinion/14kidder.html

January 14, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor

Country Without a Net

THOSE who know a little of Haiti’s history might have watched the news last night and thought, as I did for a moment: “An earthquake? What next? Poor Haiti is cursed.”

But while earthquakes are acts of nature, extreme vulnerability to earthquakes is manmade. And the history of Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters — to floods and famine and disease as well as to this terrible earthquake — is long and complex, but the essence of it seems clear enough.

Haiti is a country created by former slaves, kidnapped West Africans, who, in 1804, when slavery still flourished in the United States and the Caribbean, threw off their cruel French masters and created their own republic. Haitians have been punished ever since for claiming their freedom: by the French who, in the 1820s, demanded and received payment from the Haitians for the slave colony, impoverishing the country for years to come; by an often brutal American occupation from 1915 to 1934; by indigenous misrule that the American government aided and abetted. (In more recent years American administrations fell into a pattern of promoting and then undermining Haitian constitutional democracy.)

Hence the current state of affairs: at least 10,000 private organizations perform supposedly humanitarian missions in Haiti, yet it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Some of the money that private aid organizations rely on comes from the United States government, which has insisted that a great deal of the aid return to American pockets — a larger percentage than that of any other industrialized country.

But that is only part of the problem. In the arena of international aid, a great many efforts, past and present, appear to have been doomed from the start. There are the many projects that seem designed to serve not impoverished Haitians but the interests of the people administering the projects. Most important, a lot of organizations seem to be unable — and some appear to be unwilling — to create partnerships with each other or, and this is crucial, with the public sector of the society they’re supposed to serve.

The usual excuse, that a government like Haiti’s is weak and suffers from corruption, doesn’t hold — all the more reason, indeed, to work with the government. The ultimate goal of all aid to Haiti ought to be the strengthening of Haitian institutions, infrastructure and expertise.

This week, the list of things that Haiti needs, things like jobs and food and reforestation, has suddenly grown a great deal longer. The earthquake struck mainly the capital and its environs, the most densely populated part of the country, where organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations have their headquarters. A lot of the places that could have been used for disaster relief — including the central hospital, such as it was — are now themselves disaster areas.

But there are effective aid organizations working in Haiti. At least one has not been crippled by the earthquake. Partners in Health, or in Haitian Creole Zanmi Lasante, has been the largest health care provider in rural Haiti. (I serve on this organization’s development committee.) It operates, in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health, some 10 hospitals and clinics, all far from the capital and all still intact. As a result of this calamity, Partners in Health probably just became the largest health care provider still standing in all Haiti.

Fortunately, it also offers a solid model for independence — a model where only a handful of Americans are involved in day-to-day operations, and Haitians run the show. Efforts like this could provide one way for Haiti, as it rebuilds, to renew the promise of its revolution. 

To contribute to the Partners in Health relief effort in Haiti, click here. 

When I think of Haiti, I automatically think of Paul Farmer, a physician, humanitarian and global public health advocate who has committed his life to providing health care to the poor -- one person at a time -- beginning in Haiti more than 20 years ago. I had the honor of meeting him and attending several of his lectures, while I worked as a freelance reporter for Harvard School of Public Health. 

Farmer’s life and work were chronicled in Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World,
written by Tracy Kidder and published in 2003. 
In his book, Kidder paints some memorable scenes of life and death in a country where people are lucky to earn $1 a day. 

Today, the picture must be much uglier. 

Think, if you can, of all the fighting that has gone on in our huge and affluent country in the last year over how to share our abundant medical resources. Imagine a fairly isolated and impoverished country of 9 million with almost NO health care providers. Then imagine it flattened by an earthquake

NBC’s health reporter Robert Bazell gives a good overview of the public health situation in Haiti before yesterday’s earthquake:

·         There were three hospitals in Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million. Now there are none

·         Fewer than one-third of the population has access to sanitation facilities. Fewer than half have access to clean drinking water. There is an enormous burden of diarrheal illnesses in the country, anyway.

In addition to that, malaria is prevalent and so is starvation because of the poverty.

·         Add to that widespread HIV infection limiting the availability of safe blood for transfusions, plus virtually no emergency response system.

·         Many streets in the poorest sections of Port-au-Prince also act as sewage trenches.

Today, bodies and rubble line those same streets. Bazell worries roving gangs may make rescue and recovery difficult for the humanitarian workers that come in to help. 

It all adds up to the most accurate picture of hell I could ever imagine.

For Bazell’s story, go to:

Here's an incredible wide angle photo of the scope of devastation, from The New York Times: