I'm the author of Lonely Planet's Haiti coverage. I've spent the last several days trying to get to grips with the news from that poor country, and as we've all discovered, hard news has been hard to come by in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
The Haitian phone network was out of action all yesterday, and is patchy today. I haven't been able to contact any of my friends in Port-au-Prince directly, but have managed to learn (unbelievably, through following a
long chain of Twitterers) that they're OK. The place I like to stay at in Port-au-Prince, St. Joseph's Home for Boys (a vocational home for ex-street kids that also runs as a guesthouse) was totally destroyed, although mercifully no one was injured.
Things aren't good - parliament destroyed, the presidential palace destroyed, the main hospital, the UN headquarters,
a major hotel, the prison, the Catholic cathedral - all destroyed. The southern town of Jacmel - a truly lovely place with beautiful Victorian buildings and one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean - is also reportedly heavily damaged, and the road over the mountains connecting it to to Port-au-Prince is impassable due to landslides. The scale of the disaster is quite numbing, and people can so far only guess at the number of dead. Tens of thousands doesn't seem unlikely.
Naturally, aid agencies are crying out for assistance, and I urge you to please give something if you can. The BBC website has a good page listing NGOs on the ground in Haiti. Of these the Red Cross is naturally one of the biggest players, while Oxfam have long had a big operation in Haiti.
That said, I'd like to mention three excellent smaller organisations in Haiti worthy of your support - these are the sort of smaller players who inevitably get overlooked in the media scrum, but often have more focussed and effective programmes working among local communities - essential characteristics once the immediate heavy
lifting of disaster relief is over, and the media and world inevitably turn their attention to the next story.
Partners in Health - A medical charity that has been working in Haiti for a long time, building local medical capacity. Run by MD Paul Farmer, a noted writer on Haiti, it has a large network of Haitian doctors and nurses well-placed to offer immediate and long-term medical assistance.
The Lambi Fund - A smaller but highly regarded development charity. It offers assistance to communities outside Port-au-Prince (areas also hit by the effects of the quake) to help arrest the decline of the agricultural sector, which has driven hundreds of thousands of young people from the countryside to search for a
livelihood in the capital's now-stricken shanty-towns.
Yele - A development NGO working mainly in education and community projects, but with extensive experience in food distribution and emergency relief. Yele was set up by the musician Wyclef Jean, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti. Its close ties to communities in some of the poorest and worst affected areas will be
invaluable in the coming weeks and months.
Parts of the media haven't been slow to point out that Haiti seems like a country from which only bad news ever seems to come, but the last few years really had seen the country begin to turn a corner. Security has largely no longer been an issue (the US State Department finally dropped its hysterical travel advisory last year), peaceful elections have been held, and some major foreign investors have started to return to the country. The tourism sector, once Haiti's
major hard currency earner, was also starting to pick up.
It's not all a bed of roses certainly, but the outlook was positive. However, the legacy of long periods of political instability has seen Haiti's infrastructure in tatters even before the earthquake. This is a country in need of serious and prolonged help.
Finally, a last word from Richard Morse, who runs the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince and who is providing updates from the ground on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RAMhaiti:
'I'm trying to find a positive point of view and all i can come up
with is: a lot of people didn't die.'