/ 15 January 2010

SA gives aid after Haiti quake

The South African government on Thursday pledged R1-million for the relief effort in Haiti following the massive earthquake in the Caribbean republic, according to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

Deputy International Relations Minister Sue van der Merwe is leading the effort and the national disaster centre will coordinate the response.

Forty medical professionals from Rescue South Africa were set to leave for the capital, Port-au-Prince, but by Thursday night it was unclear whether the damaged airport in the capital will be able to receive flights.

The South African government has entered a partnership with Vodacom, Netcare and Discovery in a relief effort that will include a search-and-rescue operation to look for missing people. A set of forensic pathologists will set off on Sunday to help with the identification of bodies and the Gift of the Givers will take care of humanitarian assistance.

Parliamentarian Vytjie Mentor is pressing South African banks and South African Airways (SAA) to assist three million Haitians now desperately struggling to survive.

The earthquake that rocked Haiti is estimated to have left more than 100 000 people dead and much of the country is under rubble. The International Federation of the Red Cross says one-third of the country’s nine million citizens need emergency aid.

The quake centred on a point 16km south-west of Port-au-Prince. It registered 7,0 on the Richter scale and caused the country’s Parliament, schools, hospitals and the tax office to collapse, the London Guardian reported.

Mentor told the Mail & Guardian she had mobilised all her contacts to ensure the relief effort got off the ground. She has appealed to SAA to airlift doctors, nurses and aid workers from South Africa to Haiti for free and appealed to banks for help.

She has written to Absa, which manages the state’s pension funds. “We give them so much money, can they not extend a helping hand?” asks Mentor.

In her capacity as chairperson of Parliament’s public enterprises committee, she has appealed to parastatals to delve into their corporate social budgets and provide cash for relief efforts.

“It is the end of the financial year. I know there will be roll-overs and I’m telling people that instead of spending that money on workshops and team-building to avoid a roll-over, they should spend the money on this.”

The mobilising that Mentor began on Thursday morning has resulted in clothing and water purification tablets being collected in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape to be taken to Haiti.

Haiti’s President René Preval narrowly escaped death when the presidential palace collapsed. The president described stepping over bodies and hearing the cries of those trapped inside. The senate president was among those pinned under the ruins.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and most of its buildings are constructed with tin and cheap concrete, with many slums perched on steep, bare hillsides, which are particularly prone to landslides.

“The whole city is in darkness. You have thousands of people sitting in the streets with nowhere to go. The traffic is jammed,” one eyewitness, Michael Bazile, told CNN. “Everybody is yelling. They are praying. They are crying.”

Stroke of luck
One South African businessman narrowly escaped death when he landed in Port-au-Prince shortly before the quake hit the city. Said a source familiar with the details: “He wanted to book into a hotel but there was a problem with his booking, so he went to another hotel. When the earthquake hit, it destroyed the first hotel and left the one he was in unscathed. He even sent messages from his Blackberry to say that he is fine.”