Eight days ago, which seems a lifetime ago right now, we were meeting in Rome, with the operational group, briefing about the Haiti earthquake emergency. The initial response teams had already been deployed, and the reports we got from the ground gave us a clear view of the enormity of the catastrophy, and the size of the humanitarian response it would require.
During the meeting, we realized that the destruction of the infrastructure inside Haiti would not allow us to bring humanitarian aid straight into the country, neither by air or sea. I stressed the need to beef up the logistics and support capacity we had in the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbour. While we were discussing the possibilities, my boss bent over to me, and asked: "Would you want to run that part of the operation". And I said "Yes".
That was at 10 am. Two hours later, senior management had agreed, and I got my "marching instructions": set up the logistics and support "pipeline" in the Dominican Republic. I asked to leave on Tuesday, so I had time to define what I would need in terms of people and structure, and to prepare myself.
On the Tuesday, I flew into Santo Domingo, the capital. As I walked into the office, I saw 30 people cramped into a space, suitable for maybe 10 people. Staff was working with 6 at a table of one.
The same day, we negotiate office and accommodation space at a local hotel, and the next day, we moved. Staff kept on flying in, either to work out of our "Dominican hub" or in transit to Haiti. This evening, I checked, and we already had 67 rooms occupied in the hotel, meaning 67 people were already working in our Santo Domingo office, excluding the logistics hubs we are currently establishing in Barahona and Jimani.
Our operation is supporting the food "pipeline" into Haiti, transporting 40 trucks of food per day, soon to be increased to 60 trucks per day. We also have two passenger planes and one cargo plane which fly into Haiti twice or three times. We don't only transport food, but also ferry people and humanitarian aid into Haiti for other agencies. And it is only the beginning.
Since I landed, the operation has rapidly increased in size, and will continue to do so. Days and nights fade into one. I concentrated in organising the office structure, and creating an environment where my staff could work. We are working out of two converted conference rooms in the hotel, squatting with our laptops at conference tables with admin staff, procurement people, the air operations officers and the logistics group. As I walk around the rooms, I overhear conversations about flight and cargo bookings, people negotiating warehouse space, deals being made about jet fuel, travel bookings, offloading planes, security clearances, the purchasing of drinking water, and situation reports. It is a positive, 'we-can' atmosphere. I can see people smile, and enjoy the work the do. This is the stuff they like, the core of a humanitarian aid spirit.
And I have great staff. They know their work, I don't have to do much, other than a bit of guidance here and there, and for the rest, just be the "oil in the machinery". Each group, be it the logisticians, air ops people, procurement staff, or the travel people, all know what to do and how to do it. I see small teams working on the deployment of the helicopters, the flight schedule of the next days, the increase of our trucking capacity or simply putting together the contact list of those operating in the country. I am proud of them.
And inbetween all of it, Jayne stands up and shouts "Quiet everyone, who has bloodtype B+"? One of our staff member in Haiti dug his two children out of the rubble of what once was his house, and we evacuated them into Santo Domingo. One of the children was going into shock and the hospital lacked B+ blood. A staff member raised her hands, and she was driven to the bloodbank. Meanwhile the hotel staff started an SMS campaign to find more B+ blood and in one hour came up with a list of 8 donors. The child was saved. For now that is, he remains in critical condition.
Meanwhile we continue to get 'shopping lists' from our people on the ground in Haiti. The need instant coffee, sun screen, water, toilet paper... I admire them. In between the trauma of having experienced the quake, they continue to operate for 18 hours a day. With a complete lack of any basic comfort. Living and working in temporary tents. I think of them, as I am sitting in my comfortable hotel room, one hour's flight away. I wish them well. They have a daunting task ahead of them. I wished they could see how dedicated we are to serve them, and their work. We, our office, is committed to keep "the pipeline" going. The virtual flow of humanitarian aid, and survival assets.
We are committed.