This post was filed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Emergency Relief team member Michael Booth reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
After an emotionally-charged visit to Haiti 8 months ago I left the country not knowing for sure when or if I would be back. IFAW had teamed up with other groups to established a coalition named ARCH (Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti), our mobile vet clinic had started treating hundreds of animals a day (watch the video) and an ambitious project was just then taking shape to address some of the most important animal needs in the island nation.
We left back in February on a small fixed-wing bound for Santo Domingo, DR – the airport in Port-au-Prince was still closed to all commercial flights and although we had a great sense of accomplishment one could not help think that our work was only just beginning and there was so much to be done, so many shattered lives to rebuild.
It was an equally emotional day this past Monday, as once again, the IFAW team landed on the Toussaint L’Ouverture airport strip. Although it had been several months since my last visit, ARCH’s presence in Haiti never took a break. As we exited the airport’s doors, we met with our Project Manager Dr. Kevin Brown and Assistant Project Manager Dr. Jean Francois Thomas. But of course they weren’t alone. We were also welcomed with a thousand ‘bon jour’s and insistent porters offering a hand with luggage. Here we are in a warm and humid Haiti, between some of the most open and joyous people you will ever meet that continue to show their amazing resiliency – it feels good to be back!
Our itinerary here is quite a busy one. Since the earthquake ARCH has treated over 30,000 animals! (watch video) But that is just 1 of 6 priorities that have us hard at work every day. Together with the Ministry of Agriculture, ARCH has set forth a number of campaigns including: Public Awareness Campaign, Education Campaign, Veterinary National Lab reconstruction, Cold-Chain Restoration campaign and our first-of-its kind Dog and Cat Survey. This last one was the first on our calendar for this trip.
On Tuesday, the team had their all-day training where 18 Haitian surveyors (mainly young vet techs and assistants) learned the intricacies to conduct a first-of-its-kind scientific survey aimed to determine dog and cat population numbers in Port-au-Prince, attitude towards animals, disease awareness and more. The survey process is using the latest in geo-spatial information requiring trainings on GPS units and following special maps designed for this effort. We are very excited to have Dr. Melanie Gall and Dr. Warren Eller both experts and invaluable team members helping us gather the information. Once completed we will have a much better understanding of how many companion animals live in the city, how people interact with them and what parameters need to be considered when conducting effective vaccination or sterilization campaigns in Haiti. Without this information, many efforts are, simply put, scientifically-useless.
The trainings were held at the site of the National Veterinary Laboratory. This is really the only Animal Lab in the country and the buildings here suffered extensive damage. One of ARCH’s first objectives was to assist the Ministry of Agriculture in the re-construction of 2 new labs, a re-model of a damaged one, constructing a new perimeter wall and helping re-stock the lab with some of the latest equipment. All of these efforts will effectively help Haiti’s vets and animal authorities to better address animal diseases and animal husbandry in the country and have long-lasting impacts on the welfare of countless sheep, goats, cattle, horses, donkeys, and other animals.
After an entire day of training the surveyor were dying to go to work! Donning their good-looking ARCH t-shirts, the team combed the city on Wednesday gathering some great data and leaving quite an impression on the local population. This effort will continue at least during the next 10 days completing in that time thousands of surveys!
Today, after a meeting with the Director Generals of the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, we checked-up on one of our newly installed cold-chain units in Kesskof in the outskirts of PaP. The cold-chain refers to process of keeping vaccinations at optimal (cool) temperatures so that these don’t become useless. During the earthquake the city lost power. Without the electricity to power-up coolers and refrigerators keeping vaccinations at optimal temperatures under the hot Caribbean weather was a near-impossible endeavor. To solve this issue, ARCH invested in 12 cold-chain units, these units use solar panels to power refrigerators spread out in different locations.
After hearing about these and the incredible efforts to import them, it was great to see one installed and working beautifully. It was packed with rabies and anthrax vaccinations, ready to help inoculate animals, another great way to keep them healthy and strong!
We will stay in Haiti for another 2 days before returning home. This time, I will leave Haiti with a completely different feeling. Maybe it’s closure, I’d like to say that it’s ‘finishing a chapter’ and that our work in Haiti is done, but the truth is that we will still be active here for many months and in many ways our work here lives on. But after seeing Haiti 8 months after the quake I see many encouraging signs. Not only our work with ARCH but all around the city, some things are better while (truth be told, some things remain exactly the same), what we can be sure about is that ARCH’s efforts falls under the first category – tens of thousands of animals helped directly, many million more through our ongoing work at different levels. As always this wouldn’t be possible without the generous contributions of our supporters all over the world. You made this happen, thank you!
For more information visit www.ifaw.org.