Hollywood actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie is in Haiti where she met with survivors of last month’s devastating earthquake as well as some of the local and international aid workers assisting in the relief effort.
Ms. Jolie arrived yesterday in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which bore the brunt of the 7.0 magnitude quake that struck the small Caribbean nation on 12 January.
The quake killed up to 200,000 people and left 2 million in need of assistance, in addition to causing widespread damage and destruction to vital infrastructure in Haiti, already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“It will take years to rebuild Haiti,” Ms. Jolie, a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said after seeing the devastation for herself.
“Every day, the UN, governments, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and local organizations are providing more people with protection, food, water, shelter and health care, yet the needs are still enormous and the displacement could last a decade,” she stated.
On arriving in the capital, Ms. Jolie was briefed by the top UN official on the ground, Edmond Mulet, on the scale of the humanitarian operation and the remaining challenges.
She noted that providing adequate shelter to the displaced is crucial in light of the upcoming rainy season, which could add to the devastation. “Everyone is bracing themselves for a second wave of tragedy,” she said.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, Kim Bolduc, said earlier this week that some 250,000 of the 1 million people in need of shelter have received tents or plastic sheets. However, the main concern now is to bring in sufficient hazard-resistant, hurricane-proof shelter, a task made all the more difficult because the port was severely damaged by the quake and air transportation would be enormously costly.
Ms. Jolie also visited a cash-for-work programme run by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in the Carrefour district of Port-au-Prince, which is enabling Haitians to earn an income as they help their country to recover. The programme is assisting some 40,000 people with an aim of reaching more than 400,000.
“To give people the ability to work towards their own future is so important at this time. It helps to restore their hope and respects their dignity,” she noted.
While at the SOS Children’s Villages in the Santo area of Port-au-Prince, Ms. Jolie applauded the work of the organization which began providing additional care for children who have been newly orphaned or who have lost contact with their parents as a result of the quake.
She stressed that new adoptions should definitely not be encouraged as an immediate response to the emergency. “Haiti had many trafficking problems before the earthquake and now must keep a very close watch on the children. I would encourage as much support as possible to groups like SOS and UNICEF providing care for children in country.”
During her visit, Ms. Jolie also visited a tented hospital set up and run by UNHCR partner Médecins Sans Frontières in the commune of Delmas in Port-au-Prince.
“I was struck by the strength and spirit of the Haitian people. Children as young as nine months old were coping with amputations with extraordinary resilience.”
She also praised the “extraordinary” doctors at the hospital, noting that for all the patients that had to have amputations, there are also a high number of limbs and lives that the doctors have managed to save.
Ms. Jolie arrived in Haiti following a stop in the Dominican Republic, where she visited Haitian earthquake victims in the local public hospital and in nearby shelters.