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Young children are seen at an orphanage on January 18, 2010 following the earthquake that hit in Port au Prince on January 12, 2010. More than 105,000 food rations have been distributed to victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake since the emergency relief operation began last week, the UN's food relief agency said.


The devastating earthquake in Haiti has caught the attention of the world in an unprecedented humanitarian relief effort.

While there is much coverage on the ongoing work being done both in Haiti and around the world, there may be many questions and confusion about how to donate, what to donate, or how to locate information on missing relatives or loved ones.

Or you may have more general questions about Haiti, earthquakes, the relief effort and Canada's involvement.

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If you have a question and you can't find the answer, leave it with us through the comment function attached to this story. Every day we will find the best person to provide you the information you need, whether it be from a Globe reporter in Haiti or an expert with a specific relief organization active in the region.

Q & A

The Red Cross says it is best to take the time to document and photograph the dead. Is this being done at all? I watched a feature on CBC on the mass graves and there doesn't appear to be any documentation happening. I watched a documentary on the 2004 tsunami and one of the families filmed were able find and identify their daughter through photographs posted on bulletin boards made specifically for the purpose of identification. It seems like an important step that may get overlooked.

Answer: In a disaster situation, especially one so grave as Haiti, care of the deceased in often overlooked in the days that follow. Trucks piled with corpses have been ferrying unidentified bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince at the request of Haitian authorities, who see it as the most efficient way of dispensing of rotting corpses.

But the Red Cross says it's important to avoid this hasty disposal of bodies, and photographing them or taking DNA samples of the corpses before burial is needed not only for identification purposes, but to allow families to properly mourn their dead. After all, contrary to what many believe, corpses do not spread disease and cause epidemics after natural disasters.

Haiti's voodoo priests have also objected to the anonymous mass burials. Disposing of the dead in such a manner and without the proper rites is seen as disrespectful.

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Few of the victims, however, are receiving proper burials.

Canada, for its part, has outlined criteria on how to identify Canadian victims, which includes having the body seen and identified by next-of-kin or an embassy official. The criteria is listed here:

Meanwhile, as part of its relief efforts, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a forensic expert to Haiti to help document the death, Reuters reports. Pan American Health Organization spokesman, Daniel Epstein, told Reuters: "We are making every effort to prevent dumping bodies into mass graves because every family has the right to identify and know the fate of their loved ones, their lost relatives."

Are cruise ships in the area of Haiti or Dominican Republic at risk in the event of aftershocks?

Answer: Scientists have said that Haiti can expect more aftershocks in the coming weeks, but they tend to be weaker and less frequent.

The Dominican Republic is urging tourists not to cancel their getaways despite the devastation in neighbouring Haiti. Vanessa Welter, a spokeswoman for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, said that this week's powerful aftershock in Haiti was not felt by its neighbours. "It caused no damage in the DR and it wasn't felt in most places. I think just maybe a little bit closer to the border, but there was no damage," Ms. Welter said. "I'm not a scientist so I really can't speak to the risk, but I do know that the DR is doing well, all the tourist regions are open and welcoming visitors and all the seaports and airports are running smoothly."

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One cruise company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said it sees no reason to alter the itinerary of its ships that dock in northern Haiti. Spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said Labadee is quite some distance from the epicentre. By remaining in the area instead of pulling out, the company in many ways is pumping money into Haiti's economy. It has also found other ways to help, donating $1-million to the relief effort, and in delivering food and other supplies to the country.

We have received lots of information on the deployment of Canadian Forces to Haiti. While the DART capability, and military equipment and troops to transport aid has been invaluable, it appears that the delivery of aid on the ground is best done by those with the training and skills to do so. The other countries assisting Haiti have deployed primarily civilians with emergency response and medical skills. My question is: How many civilians has Canada deployed to Haiti through accessing its civilian roster or through its Emergency Response teams from across Canada, or through other means?

Answer: Canada's disaster-relief response to earthquake-ravaged Haiti has been swift. Along with hundreds of Canadian Forces' members, 51 Canadian government officials and 33 embassy staff are on the ground in Haiti. Search and rescue technicians have been working alongside international teams to search for survivors and recover remains. Alongside these efforts, several aid organizations, including CARE Canada and Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders), have been working on the ground to help the people of Haiti.

Is there a limit on the number of reporters that each country can send to Haiti and how are all the reporters, camera crews etc., being supplied with food and water? ~Farenheit 451

Answer: We asked Les Perreaux, who was the first Globe and Mail reporter on the scene in Haiti, to answer this question.

"It sounds like the implication of the question is that journalists take food and water away from earthquake victims. It's an interesting question, and I don't know a clear, satisfactory answer.

There's no limit on the number of journalists, and there are a lot of them.

Most reporters who arrived early brought enough food and water with them to be self sufficient for the first several days. But most hotels still standing have been able to sell food and water at inflated prices. On the streets, food and beverages also remain available, but at a cost.

The problem in these situations is that merchants who hold stocks of food and water aren't usually interested in bankrupting themselves by giving them all away to victims. And there aren't enough supplies to provide for everyone with no fresh supplies coming in for several days.

Most victims, who have lost everything, including their jobs, have no money to pay.

The same rules seem to apply to the airline seats, taxi rides, gasoline and hotel spots journalists consume that would be extremely valuable to any victim. (Most hotels are renting "rooms" but many journalists are storing gear inside and sleeping outside for safety.) Journalists spend a lot of money in the local economy, and employ people. But reporters tend to overpay for everything, which probably also has consequences for the local economy.

At the same time, the work journalists do probably also inflates the amount of vital donations aid groups receive, and their recounting of people's suffering also spurs government into action.

There's no question the massive influx of journalists distorts the situation in several ways, probably for good and bad."

The travel advisory for Haiti asks Canadians in need of assistance there to make their way to the embassy grounds but that: "Canadians should be advised that assistance at the Embassy is limited to basic shelter on the compound grounds, food and water, as the building itself and power and telecommunications services have been greatly affected by the earthquake." I wanted to ask, what is the extent of damage to the embassy? ~ Steve

Answer: Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a briefing Wednesday [Jan. 20]that there was damage to the roof and the second floor of the embassy. He said that all embassy officials are fine.

The media seem to be using "Haiti" as shorthand for Port-au-Prince. To what extent was the rest of the country actually damaged? And how is the rest of the country functioning in the face of the devastation of the capital? ~ Saskatoon Bob

Answer: While most media outlets are based in Port-au-Prince and the damage has been devastating, other parts of Haiti have also been badly affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Roughly 90 per cent of Léogâne, the hardest hit area, has been destroyed, and 60 per cent of Jacmel - the family home of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean - has been flattened. Residents in Léogâne reported geysers shooting water and lava five metres into the air when the quake hit the seaside town.

Aid trickles in slowly. Many Canadian soldiers are setting up in Jacmel and nearby Léogâne, where Canada will focus its relief efforts.

Question: Will the number of dead bodies in Haiti lead to epidemics?

Answer: We asked The Globe's public health reporter, André Picard, to answer this question:

Dead, decomposing bodies smell terrible and they are unsightly and upsetting. However, the notion that corpses spread disease and cause epidemics after natural disasters like earthquakes is a myth - a persistent and harmful myth.

In the hours and days after disaster strikes, the focus should always be on the living.

Pathogens spread among and thrive in live people. The chaos and insalubrious conditions that exist in the wake of disasters is what fuels epidemics. Don't blame the dead.

The Red Cross, a humanitarian group with expertise in cadaver management, says it is essential to avoid hasty and uncoordinated disposal of bodies and that corpses should never be disposed of in mass graves.

Keeping cadavers - or, minimally, photographing them and taking DNA samples before burial - may seem unpalatable on the surface but it is essential for identification. Hasty disposal of bodies hampers rescue efforts and prolongs the pain of families of the "missing."

Even people handling bodies such as rescue workers and mortuary staff are at little risk of contracting illnesses. Pathogens rarely survive more than two days in a dead body and risks can be avoided with simple precautions like wearing gloves and hand washing. Masks are worn principally to lessen the smell, though the favoured technique among veteran aid workers is to block their nostrils with Vicks VapoRub.


See our list of agencies offering aid to the region here:

Live chat from Haiti

An online discussion with Marilyn McHarg, general director of Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) in Canada and Audrée Montpetit of CARE Canada, who will participate from Haiti.

Ms. Montpetit is part of CARE Canada's emergency response team in Haiti. She lead the organization's work in Haiti in the wake of Hurricanes Ike and Hanna, which caused flooding and devastation in 2008. A graduate of the University of Sherbrooke and l'Ecole de Commerce Tours-Poitiers in France, Ms. Montpetit has been with CARE for four years.

Ms. McHarg is a McGill University nursing graduate and a Queen's University life sciences and psychology undergraduate, She was among the group of people who founded MSF Canada in 1989.

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

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