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Progress of Haitian Relief Effort Highlighted by Panel

Contact: Patrick Verel
(212) 636-7790

Ken Gavin, S.J., national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, U.S.A
Photo by Ryan Brenizer
With rescue teams working feverishly to stabilize Haiti in the aftermath of a massive earthquake, Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs convened a panel to address the scale of the disaster and the ensuing humanitarian response.

“Haiti: Crisis and Humanitarian Action” took place on Jan. 21 at Keating First Auditorium on the Rose Hill campus and featured experts recruited by IIHA director Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.

In assessing the performance of agencies such as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations that have converged on Port-au-Prince, Cahill noted that there has been a lot of progress in coordinating efforts since the 1960s, when he began working with refugees.

“There wasn’t even a common vocabulary back then,” he said. “This is a remarkable change in the last decade, how we’ve learned from past failures.”

Also on the panel was Paul Browne, deputy commissioner of public information for the New York Police Department and deputy director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti. His experience includes helping establish an interim police force in Haiti during the United States-led “Operation Restore Democracy” in 1994 and 1995.

Browne told the auditorium of about 200 students that although media images might portray Haiti as a being rife with looting and rioting, he did not expect the security situation to deteriorate rapidly, explaining that the Haitian people are some of the most law-abiding he has encountered.

In the days following the United States’ restoration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1995, Browne encountered large crowds bent on revenge against members of the previous regime. Browne convinced the crowds to let international police monitors arrest the perpetrators instead of taking violent action, he said.

“Certainly a crowd of 100 didn’t have to comply with these international police monitors, especially when there were only two or three of us,” he said.

Ken Gavin, S.J., national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, U.S.A., devoted his time to showing how his group, which had been working out of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic before the earthquake, is doing its part.

To give a sense of how bad the situation is, he noted that the drive from Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince, which used to take six hours, now takes 12 hours. He also echoed many others in saying that the country’s suffering did not start on Jan. 12, and will not end on the next Jan. 12, either.

“What JRS tries to do is affirm that God is present even in the most difficult and tragic human events,” he said. “Quite simply, that is why we are here in Haiti and in Port-au-Prince. We see in the faces of tragically suffering people the very face of God, calling us to be in his presence.”

Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, used the occasion to announce that the University will direct its efforts toward raising money for Catholic Relief Services and the Jesuit Refugee Service, and asked that members of the Fordham community resist the “natural human temptation” to send canned foods, bottled water or clothing to Haiti.

Agencies such as Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Service, he said, have exemplary track records of directing money directly to relief efforts and have a better sense of what is needed on the ground.

“The challenge that the world faces in Haiti is not a challenge that is going to be overcome in a week, a month, six months or even a year,” he said. “It is a challenge that is going to be with us for a generation.”

The panel also featured Ed Tsui, former director of the New York office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Robert Nickelsberg, an American photojournalist who was embedded with the First Marine Division in the Iraq War in 2003.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 14,700 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in Westchester, the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.

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