Sunday, October 5, 2008

Haitian Consul General Speaks Of Nation's Plight In Spring Valley, NY

Felix Augustin, the Haitian consul general in New York
Felix Augustin, the Haitian consul general in New York

SPRING VALLEY -The Haitian consul general to New York and a Haitian-born member of New York's City Council were among several officials who went to a community service agency in the village yesterday to provide an update about local relief efforts to aid storm-ravaged Haiti.

"I don't know if you understand the magnitude of our situation," Consul General Felix Augustin said. "First of all, in the span of three weeks, four hurricanes have battered a small island of eight and a half million people. We have been so devastated that 80 percent of Haiti is under the water."

The storms passed through Haiti in late August and early September.

Augustin said about 1,000 people were killed, $120 million worth of crops and livestock destroyed and 100,000 people left homeless. Potable water is scarce, he added.

Critical infrastructure, such as bridges, were inundated, preventing prompt delivery of essential aid supplies.

The New York City Council member, Dr. Mathieu Eugene from Brooklyn, said he met with Haiti's President René Préval before testifying in Washington about Haiti's needs.

The Democrat, who represents District 40, recalled the conversation.

"I asked President Préval, 'Besides food, water and medicine, what is the priority No. 1 for Haiti right now?' and he told me ... emergency bridges.

"And I said, "What is priority No. 2?' He said priority No. 2 is emergency bridges," Eugene said.

The U.S. has donated an emergency bridge and $20 million, Augustin said, and Canada and the European Union also have donated funds. But, he said, that aid would be nowhere near enough to begin to address the catastrophe.

Halfway into the meeting - attended by about 40 people, many of whom were representatives of the relief task force formed in Rockland more than a month ago - the talk grew heated when it became apparent that miscommunications would prevent items collected in Rockland from being sent via the air shipment being organized by the state.

The deadline for getting donated items to the state collection points, Eugene said, was yesterday afternoon. The cargo will likely be sent to Haiti this week, he said.

That led to an outcry from attendees, who wondered why they had not been informed by Augustin's office so they could have their items delivered to a collection point by the deadline.

Augustin said he had not been aware of the deadline.

Gov. David Paterson's office set the deadline, said Eugene, who said he was spearheading efforts in New York City and not aware of the Rockland group's efforts.

Because the response in the city was overwhelming, he said, he had asked the Governor's Office for an extension. He was granted an additional week, which is up.

"This trip to Haiti is going to cost the state of New York $100,000, and every day they spend $10,000 to pay the people, the soldiers, to pack the food and stuff like that," Eugene said.

With the financial crisis facing the state and the country, he said, "they cannot afford to extend it for another week."

Officials - including county Legislator Jacques Michel and Spring Valley Planning Board member Joseph Desmaret - and members of the audience called for calm, and the meeting continued with a discussion of alternatives for getting the Rockland donations to Haiti.

The relief coalition, through Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, had initially hoped to use a National Guard cargo plane to transport donated goods from Rockland.

Eugene said he would try to see if another airplane could be secured, and others suggested contacting shipping companies to get the goods to Haiti by container.

Either way, said Renold Julien, who heads the local relief task force, members of the coalition would go to Haiti to oversee distribution of the donations to ensure that they make it into the hands of the needy instead of corrupt officials.

Eugene and Augustin commended the local coalition for its efforts.

Source: LoHud.Com

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