Inside USD

CRS Official Shares Haiti, Indonesia Experiences

Monday, May 14, 2012

Catholic Relief Services, the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, has a two-fold mission.

Abroad, it provides emergency relief and promotes human development. At home, it educates U.S. Catholics about the work it does on their behalf and with their support, and invites them to live their faith in global solidarity.

CRS official Scott Campbell was fulfilling the second part of the agency’s mission April 26 when he delivered a presentation at the University of San Diego. Campbell, a graduate student in USD’s Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, shared his firsthand experience of disaster relief efforts in Indonesia and Haiti.

For four years, following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Campbell oversaw the emergency response in Aceh, an Indonesian province located on the northernmost tip of the island of Sumatra. He spent three and a half years in the region and, even after moving on to serve as the CRS country representative for the Philippines, continued to oversee the relief effort for another six months.

Campbell also spent 10 months in Haiti, where he directed all of CRS’ development programs in that country as well as its response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

For the first part of his presentation, Campbell focused on CRS’s post-tsunami efforts in Aceh. He then shifted focus to the agency’s response to the Haiti earthquake. He also compared and contrasted the two disasters as well as CRS’ approach to each.

The 9.2-magnitude Indian Ocean earthquake occurred on Dec. 26, 2004, lasting for about nine minutes and triggering a tsunami with 50-foot waves, Campbell said. Those waves reached the coast of Aceh within 20 minutes, resulting in “160,000 people killed, a half a million people left homeless and then billions of dollars’ worth of damage.”

On Jan.12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. The epicenter was just southwest of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Campbell said approximately 230,000 people died and two million were internally displaced.

In the face of both crises, CRS had a three-stage response that included: an emergency/immediate phase, a transitional phase and a long-term rehabilitation/rebuilding phase.

In the emergency phase, CRS primarily responded to the victims’ immediate needs for food, water and health care. Among other things, Campbell said, CRS distributed food, personal hygiene kits and other items, including tents, blankets, cookware and utensils.

The subsequent phase saw the construction of transitional housing – some 2,100 temporary shelters in Aceh alone – and potable water facilities. It also included the implementation of a CRS program known as “Cash for Work,” in which local people were encouraged to collect debris from the tsunami- and earthquake-ravaged areas and to exchange it for cash; this program also served as a boon for the local economy.

In addition to housing, Campbell said, CRS participated in many infrastructure projects, including the construction of roads, bridges, schools and a hospital.

Pointing out some similarities between the situations in Indonesia and Haiti, Campbell noted that “both countries had frequent disasters, both small and large,” and both disasters resulted in “overwhelming destruction” and “extreme trauma.”

But the differences between the two crises, he said, can be attributed to the comparative size of the two countries and to the location of the damage.

Indonesia is “a big country with lots of resources,” and the devastation from the tsunami was mostly a regional issue affecting Aceh, Campbell explained. The earthquake had occurred at sea, and the extent of the tsunami damage was mostly limited to Sumatra’s northernmost province.

On the other hand, Haiti is a smaller and poorer country, he said. Because the earthquake’s epicenter was just southwest of the capital city, it “hit the major hub” of the country’s political and economic life.

— Denis C. Grasska, ‘03

This story appears in the May issue of the Southern Cross where Grasska is assistant editor.

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