Political unrest challenges help for Haiti as local groups step up

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The local effort is underway to help Haiti after a devastating earthquake last weekend.

“The need is great. It was a very strong earthquake,” said Carol Bremer-Bennet, executive director of World Renew.

The former Christian Reformed World Relief committee has a large footprint in Haiti.

But organizations large and small, like Grand Rapids-based Haiti Needs You, are finding new obstacles to their relief efforts.

The assassination of the country’s president in July has fractured the already unstable government. 

“When you don’t have a government that’s functioning strongly, it can be very difficult to mount a big disaster response in a crisis like an earthquake,” Bremer-Bennett said.

Adding to that, warring gangs are now in control of the main road that leads into the areas hardest hit by the quake in the southwest portion of the country.

The gangs have called a truce.

“They have said that they would allow people to go through it, but there’s no guarantee of that. So, our hands are a little tied this time,” Haiti Needs You Director Tim Ryan said.

But neither organization is giving up. The need is too great.   

And the greatest needs right now are water, food and shelter.

The best way for the public to fulfill those need is with financial donations.

“Financial donations would reach the people in a few days. They would be able to purchase those supplies and get it to the people,” Ryan said.

Cash provides more than short-term relief. It’s also helps in the long run.

Backpacks are an example of short-term relief. They’re a popular item sent to help school children caught in a disaster. 

“When a market gets flooded by something like backpacks, all of the small business owners in Haiti, who have learned how to sew backpacks and are selling backpacks are put of business, at a time when they need business the most,” Bremer-Bennett said.

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