Episode 36: with Joanne St Louise discussing this week’s earthquake in Haiti

Today’s guest is Joanne St Louis. She speaks with us about the situation in Haiti just after this week’s devastating earthquake, as well as the recent assassination of the Haitian President, Covid, high levels of gang violence, and an approaching tropic storm!

Joanne is an experienced Health Program Manager with 18 years contributing to community sustainable development in Haiti. She holds a Medical Degree from the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the State University of Haiti and a bachelor’s degree in public health and Health Promotion in Developing Countries from the School of Public Health of Nancy (France).

Connect with Joanne St Louis | LinkedIn

The International Risk Podcast Transcript

Harriet Tyler  0:08 

Hi, you’re listening to the international risk podcast. This podcast is for CEOs, board members, risk and compliance officers, security advisors, and anyone interested in improving operations.

On this podcast, we hear from the traditional to the wacky, from renowned risk management experts to Red Bull daredevils, there is something to learn about the way we perceive, manage and mitigate risk from all of our gaps.

Your host, Dominic Bowen will ask the questions that you will want the answers to. If you know Dominic Bowen, you know, he is well acquainted with risk. His 20 year career has seen him successfully establish operations in some of the most complex environments around the world. Dominic has spent most of his career establishing large and successful operations in places like Haiti, Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and so many other high risk and medium risk locations, joined by our excellent guests, who will reveal innovative ideas on how you can ensure your organization thrives in areas with high risk. Thank you very much for joining us today do and

Dominic Bowen  1:34 

Hello, my name is Dominic Bowen, and I’m the host of the International risk podcast. And today we are joined by Joanne St. Louise.  Joanne is a medical doctor and a public health specialist based in Port au Prince in Haiti. Joanne is a highly experienced Health Program Manager with over 18 years experience running community development programs across Haiti. She holds a medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine and pharmacy from the State University of Haiti, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion from the School of Public Health in Nancy, which is in France. Joanne has hold a variety of leadership positions during her time in Haiti. And it’s a real blessing for Joanne to be able to spend some time with us today talking about the earthquake in Haiti. Well, Joanne, first of all, how are you doing and how is your family doing after the devastating earthquake yesterday?

Joanne St Louise  2:37 

Thanks to God, my family and I we are well. Well they are all shocked. Especially the kids who would not remember the 2010 earthquake. Actually, they were too young or not born.  And they didn’t know what it was. But we explained. And we all well.

Dominic Bowen  3:03 

Well, that’s good. I’m really glad to hear that Joanne. As many of our listeners will know, but for anyone that hasn’t seen the news over the last couple of days, there was an extremely powerful earthquake in Haiti on Saturday. There was a 7.2 worth quake in Haiti. Anything above a six can be a very devastating earthquake. So this is extremely high. And at the time of recording this podcast, there’s over 724 people dead, at least 3000 people injured and many, many others missing. Heidi’s Office of Civil Protection is working tirelessly to support people and track the information but it really is overwhelming. I had the pleasure of working with Joanne on a couple of several occasions leading up to the last election and also in response to one of the last natural disasters to affect Haiti Hurricane Matthew, but Joanne for those listeners that don’t know Haiti or that have never lived or worked in a disaster. Can you explain to our listeners what is happening in Haiti today? What’s it like on Sunday afternoon in Haiti, the day after a devastating earthquake

Joanne St Louise  4:19 

Dominic, I live in Port au Prince and I’m about two to three hours from the people were hit by the earthquake.  And I can tell you that here in Port au Prince people remember what happened in 2010. And they are stressed and in the south western part of Haiti that was hit hard by the earth quake.

There are people injured trying to get access to care. And this is difficult. I’ve received video of live streaming, people saying that they, they need doctors and nurses, they need help to take care of the people who were wounded. You know, there were building collapsing and people were injured. And actually, there are teams that medical teams with doctors and traveling to the southwestern to help. Okay. But there are also challenges because to reach the southwestern part that is that was hit hard.

Also security’s challenge, because the main access has been blocked for several weeks with gang activities, which make it really difficult to access the population.

Dominic Bowen  6:07 

Professionals would often call a situation like this a really complex disaster.  Saturday’s earthquake struck the southwestern part of Haiti. And that’s actually where you and I were working several years ago in response to Hurricane Matthew. And one of the challenges that we had then was storm damage. The roads were damaged, but there was also significant insecurity. But we know at the moment today, in August 2021, Haitians are grappling with a whole variety of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic, there was the presidential assassination last month, and then a big increase in in gang violence in several parts of Haiti. How difficult is it going to be to get humanitarian assistance to the affected communities, when there are so many challenges from the Coronavirus and then as you said, you know, significant insecurity and access challenges in the southwestern part of Haiti, it’s going to be tough and difficult to provide humanitarian assistance.

Joanne  7:12 

Especially with the insecurity, there’s like a bottleneck, because the road access to the main road that people should be using to get there is very risky. And on the ground, there are many gangs.

Dominic Bowen  9:47 

Yeah, it’s very challenging. Joanne, I remember some of the medical clinics that we managed back in 2016, and we had to pack a couple up and ended up having to pause operations because of violent attacks on the doctors and nurses, some international, some Haitian who are providing some really needed support. But there was some really desperate individuals and desperate groups. And it became quite dangerous for the teams.

Joanne, I feel even just bad even asking this question because we know that Tropical Storm Grace, which is a bringing torrential rain and is expected to reach Haiti late on Monday or early on Tuesday bringing significant rains to already battered communities. What are you predicting and what’s the feeling on the ground when everyone’s recovering or not even recovered, yet surviving through this earthquake and aftershocks, and now on Monday and Tuesday, there’s a tropical storm predicted to hit Haiti?

Joanne St Louise  7:38 

There is not much capacity to respond.

Dominic Bowen  8:27 

You and I understand what it’s like operating in high risk environments. When you talk about a high risk situation and the challenges, can you explain and draw a picture for our listeners today? What are we talking about? When we talk about a high risk situation and the difficulty of access? What are the sorts of risks that people could be facing if they’re trying to move along that main road in south west Haiti?

Joanne St Louise  8:56 

You can have doctors, nurses with medical supplies, traveling with the goodwill to rescue people to provide care and they can be kidnapped, they can face carjacking, they can be captured in kidnapping. Now people are asking for ransom to free them. And you can have even an ambulance taken even if it is transporting people in critical conditionit  can be attacked for the material like medical supplies or food or water. They can be taken away from the destination where they were going. This is some examples.

Dominic Bowen  11:37 

It’s difficult to even imagine that the worry that people are facing sort of getting their belongings together what they’re able to salvage, through the destroyed buildings now living through torrential rains, gang violence. And then you just mentioned the political challenges. If you’re comfortable talking about that, Joanne, how is the situation? There was the assassination of the President, then there was several groups claiming that they were the next in line to be in charge of Haiti. How is the political situation in Haiti today?

Joanne St Louise  12:11 

I would say not clear. And I would I think most people are silent and questioning what’s next. And also, they have their fights, but they keep silent. And we are just watching. And this is very confusing.

Dominic Bowen  12:41 

And Prime Minister Henry, who is currently leading the Government has declared a state of emergency in Haiti, which is predictable and most likely a good decision. But I understand there has not yet been an international call for assistance. Does that surprise you, knowing the likely damage and extent of the damage has already been reported?

Joanne St Louise  13:05 

Actually, I’ve seen a note from the Minister of Cooperation, external cooperation, stating that they are open to receive help. But it has to be coordinated through the National structure, which is the national security in charge of emergency response. And they say that this is their responsibility to define bodies the dead way, it’s because they don’t want to, you know, there they are, I think you’re trying to build upon the 2010 experience. So to try to improve the coordination, and to avoid any duplication or overlapping of the interventions. So my understanding is that this is a call for international assistance, but they want it to be coordinated. And then they want to have the leadership of where the interventions happen in that it has to be aligned with the priorities that they identify.

Dominic Bowen  14:23 

Well, that’s good. The host governments should be leading the response effort, and should be leading the coordination activities. So that’s fantastic. If the if the government of Haiti has that capacity, and ability and willingness to do that, as you said, there is a very significant risk. You know, we’ve talked about the risks of gang violence and the risks of a storm coming in the next day or two, but certainly the risk of wasted aid, you know, we saw billions and billions of funds have been fed into Haiti and sometimes it has been duplicated aid aid that wasn’t needed where other communities have been left wanting. So I think it is very important than any organization’s anyone wanting to make donations to anyone supporting the Haitians in this, you know, really difficult time that we can be confident that the risk of duplication or the risk of wasted aid has been mitigated through good coordination. And, Joanne, you’re a medical doctor, and a public health specialist, and you’ve spent a lot of time in communities across Haiti, affected by disaster, and you’ve implemented some really fantastic programs over the years, we know that an earthquake causes obviously a lot of death, it causes a lot of injury, broken bones, fractures. But then there are second and third order injuries and public health concerns that come soon after that. Things like lack of access to water, hygiene, public health diseases, what are the and then of course, as we saw after the 2010, earthquake, you know, a massive cholera epidemic? What are the biggest concerns that you have today, when you think about the coming weeks and months after this earthquake?

Joanne St Louise  16:03 

First of all, I think already because of the political crisis and and security, there was food and security in the southwestern part, because it’s changes were not happening, people will not able to get some supplies that should come from porphyrins, like basic things that they need to eat, because there are some products like sugar, or that they were not able to get because they come from for friends. And they were not able to send what comes from the land, the vegetables, things that are grown in, in country. But for now, I fear is my concern is that it will worsen because the basic infrastructure in that in those areas, like in terms of health centers, in terms of hospitals, able to provide the care for those who are injured, like bone injuries, or who may be made surgery. This is this is difficult. In the end, there are hospitals affected. So Dominique, it’s it’s already difficult now. It’s already very challenging now, in the coming days, especially because of the insecurity and on operating on the wards. Bringing the support they have to this population. I don’t see how that was my first concern after I failed to do to her quit. I was thinking, Okay, now have we happy? And how are we going to do to bring out to those populations?

Dominic Bowen  18:03 

And where were you and what were you doing when the earthquake struck Joanne”

Joanne St Louise  18:08 

I was home, I was a cooking a meal for my kids. Then I felt how the world was shaking. And my husband was close. And I say if I feel that it’s it’s shaking, you say me too. And then we call the kids we say let’s get out. By the time we get out, we were in the yard, we were looking at the the car, you know, jumping into last? For me, it lasts a long time. And I was like, Oh, it’s taking a long time. And then I told my husband, I don’t have any instruments. But I I take it’s no less than a 4.0 in the rich scale. I say he cannot be lowered. And then the minute after we start getting some notification about what happened. People start calling How are you? And then we start hearing that there were damages and like i in the grundles injury me?

Dominic Bowen  19:14 

Yeah, that’s really scary Joanne. I’ve been in a lot of earthquakes but I’ve never been able to move fast enough to get outside before it’s finished. The fact that you could get your husband and your kids outside into the garden, and the earthquake was still occurring is really testament to how powerful and how significant this earthquake was that hit yesterday. And Joanne, I’ve mentioned a couple of times the COVID situation in Haiti, I understand that out of a population of about 10 million people, less than 20,000 people have received their first COVID vaccination shot and perhaps no one has received a second vaccination shot. What’s the what’s the feeling within communities within Haiti about the response to COVID and about how things are unfolding with access to vaccines?

Joanne St Louise  20:05 

Based on my observations, when I travel in countryside when I’m observing, I think we have a serious challenge into having people to understand what’s going on. I think at the beginning, when people were hearing what was happening, you know, like in a rally that people were dying, they were scared. And they were taking some precautions. And then once, I think they tell that, if you catch Toby, you die. So they were afraid, and they were trying to protect themselves. But at some points, it looks like mainly because there’s a lack of confidence. People are saying it’s not true. They didn’t believe there’s no color. Now, I don’t know if they were like, having a denial. But they don’t believe that there’s COVID. Here. You wear face masks, people are looking at you. Like if you were like an alien, that you are delicate, you really, you are bizarre. And as I’ve been in the 10 departments, I know what I’m talking about. Mostly important friends, you will see people wearing masks, because if they have to go to the bank in the store, it’s mandatory that you wear the face mask. And now for vaccination. There are a lot of beliefs, people are afraid. And I think it’s going to be very challenging to have coverage, you know, and we’ve, you know, COVID, with Craig and now, some calming, it’s a very tough combination.

Dominic Bowen  21:58 

For anyone that wants to provide assistance, or to provide support to Haitians. What would your advice be Joanne?

Joanne St Louise  22:05 

I saw that the Ministry of External Cooperation as issued do not embrace of what I’ve seen in back in 2010. So it’s like really, that they try to coordinate with the National structures, or with organizations that are already present on the ground to build on what already exists. Instead of you know, just coming in even with a good heart, but for this very, a lot of confusion and waste. So if they could use as much as possible, the mean existing Haitian infrastructure, even international organization, or governments that are that are already there to help, I think this would be the best.

Dominic Bowen  23:00 

Yep, that seems like good advice. Well, a reminder that this earthquake, very significant earthquake 7.2 on the Richter scale, over 700 people killed 3000 people injured, many hundreds of people still missing. And this is in an area southwest of Haiti, a country that’s been rocked by the assassination of their president, very low vaccination rates against COVID ongoing challenges in the areas of development and humanitarian assistance. And the area that has been struck by the earthquake is a rural area, with very high rates of poverty and hunger that were occurring well before the disaster. We have significant concerns about gang violence in many of the areas that separate Puerto Prince, and the main port and the communities that need support. And then as we spoke about earlier, there is a tropical storm Tropical Storm grace that is scheduled to arrive in Haiti late on Monday or early on Tuesday. So our prayers and thoughts are with you Joanne and your friends and family and everyone in Haiti at the moment. And we we pray and hope that you get through this this situation. But thank you very much for taking the time to speak with this right Joanne that was really insightful and hopefully helps our listeners understand the real situation on the ground in more detail.

Joanne St Louise  24:20 

Thank you the money for for reaching out to me. And thank you for The International Risk Podcast. We do need your support.

Dominic Bowen  24:28 

Thank you, Joanne. And that was Joanne St. Louise, medical doctor, based in Port au Prince in Haiti.

Harriet Tyler  24:36 

You’ve been listening to the international risk podcast hosted by Dominic Bowen. Please go to wherever you download your podcasts and give this podcast a five-star review. Your positive reviews on this podcast and subscribing to future downloads is critical for our success. If you know someone that has experienced successfully working with risk, has a great story to share. We’d like to come on the show, send us an email at contact@theInternationalriskpodcast.com. Thank you for listening and join us again next week for your fix of risk related stories.

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