Disaster in Haiti: Africa?s Response

Jean Ping Chairman OAUA collective response by African countries to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that ravaged Haiti on Jan. 12 and left a trail of death and rubble came in the form of a statement of solidarity with Haiti from the chairperson of the Commission of the African Union.

?The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Jean Ping, has learnt with profound shock and sadness the devastation, including loss of life and extensive material damage, caused by the earthquake that has just visited Haiti, particularly its capital city, Port-au-Prince, and the surrounding areas,? the statement on the organization?s Web site says.?

?The earthquake hit Haiti at a time when the country was making progress in the social and economic fields, with the support of the United Nations and other members of the international community. The Chairperson of the Commission conveys AU?s heartfelt condolences to the people and Government of Haiti, and assures them of AU solidarity in this moment of enormous suffering and hardship. The Chairperson also conveys his sympathy to the government and the people of troop contributing countries of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti.? He shares the sorrow of the UN Secretary General whose staff in Haiti were also seriously affected by this tragedy. He calls on all members of international community, including AU Member States, to urgently provide the much-needed assistance to alleviate the suffering of the affected population and enable Haiti to recover from this disaster.?

Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU is charged with spearheading the integration of African states.

At national level, Kenya and South Africa moved aggressively to join the global rescue and relief effort. Kenya?s local Red Cross set up a national platform to coordinate the collection of financial, food and material donations to be shipped to Haiti; Rescue South Africa sent 40 medical professionals to the island; and the Gift of the Givers Foundation, the South African relief organization, sent three teams of search and rescue specialists. The teams left South Africa on Thursday and were scheduled to arrive in Haiti the following day.

Speaking from South Africa, former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide said he was ready to return to Haiti to help his people. Aristide has lived in exile in South Africa with his wife, Mildred, since he was deposed in 2004 and flown there in a U.S. plane.

?We feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death,? he said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Friday. ?As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the economy, moving from misery to poverty with dignity.?