This has been, without a doubt, one of the saddest yet most rewarding weeks of my life.
News from UNICEF staff on the ground in Haiti is simply heartbreaking. In crammed hospital tents -- ringed by piles of amputated limbs, bodies, and raw sewage -- injured children lie shocked and alone. Throughout Port-au-Prince, people wander the streets in search of food, water, and lost family members. Chaos continues to choke this devastated nation.
But a huge influx of help has arrived and continues to arrive, thanks to the generosity of the American people. Water, medical supplies, therapeutic food, tents, blankets: tons of supplies and equipment are landing in Haiti. So are teams of experts, men and women seasoned in disaster relief who know how to hit the ground running.
Large humanitarian organizations like UNICEF sometimes get criticized for their very size. People worry that they must be bogged down by bureaucracy, or high administrative costs. But that is simply not the case. And a disaster like the Haiti earthquake starkly demonstrates how valuable size, reach, and decades of experience can be.
Mass amounts of supplies and sophisticated supply networks are needed right now, as are strong, longstanding relationships with the Haitian people and government. Organizations that possess these are able to be faster and more efficient in the current chaos. In addition, because they buy supplies in such large quantities, they are able to negotiate the absolute lowest prices.
All of this means that your donations go farther for the people of Haiti. I certainly don't say this to disparage small NGOs -- UNICEF (and other big humanitarian organizations) work closely with grassroots organizations all around the world, and those partnerships are invaluable.
A tremendous challenge facing all organizations on the ground in Haiti right now is making sure survivors have access to clean water and sanitation. Currently, 3.5 million people are crowded into Port-au-Prince. Most lack clean drinking water and latrines, and their environment is littered with human decay. It is the perfect storm for outbreaks of deadly waterborne diseases like cholera. But we must not allow the people of Haiti to suffer a second wave of disaster. Water, latrines, purification tablets, and other supplies have already arrived in Haiti. More are on the way. And much more will be needed.
This earthquake has knocked down a country that had already been pushed to its knees by overwhelming poverty, last year's successive hurricanes, and a crippled infrastructure. Your generosity has helped jump start the recovery process. In the coming weeks, Haiti will, no doubt, slowly but surely fall from the headlines. But the needs will remain enormous. I ask that you continue to show your generosity to the Haitian people. And please feel assured in the knowledge that it is saving countless lives.
For more information, go to www.unicefusa.org.
Follow Caryl M. Stern on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CarylStern