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Talking about our response on CNN

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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    Cassandra Nelson talks to CNN about our Haiti earthquake response on Jan. 19, 2010. Photo: CNN

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Mercy Corps is one of the international aid groups on the ground working to help the people of Haiti. The organization is focused on providing clean drinking water, using filtration systems. Mercy Corps spokeswoman Cassandra Nelson joining us from Port-au-Prince.

And good to see you, thanks for your time, Cassandra. A week after this tragedy, are the people -- just a general assessment from you -- are the getting the help they need? The answer seems to range from yes to absolutely not. What's your assessment?

CASSANDRA NELSON, MERCY CORPS: I think that some of the people are getting the help they need, and each day the aid effort is reaching more and more people. So it certainly is increasing, but not everyone who needs assistance has been helped yet. The needs are absolutely overwhelming and everyone is working as fast as they can, but there's certainly a lot of people out there that still need to be reached.

HARRIS: OK, and describe your setup -- your operation, your staging, your communications with other agencies, your security setup. I know a lot of questions there, but how are you operating in Port-au- Prince?

NELSON: Well, operations here have been an incredible challenge and Mercy Corps has done emergency response for years and years and is very seasoned. We have to say, this is probably one of the hardest ones we've had.

We are working out of an office. Right now our office is overflowing. It's a place where we all sleep, we all eat, granola bars and we all do our work there as well so we're really obviously in a challenging work environment. We're having a hard time getting vehicles and getting fuel just to get around town and obviously there's the traffic issues that we're facing.

But there is a lot of coordination efforts that are going on to really make sure that there are no gaps in terms of how the aid is going to be delivered. So we're working with our colleague humanitarian aid organizations and the United Nations to really synchronize our efforts and make sure that geographically we're covering, you know, the right areas.

HARRIS: OK. Your focus is water and purifying water, filtration systems. How are you able to do this, because -- are you shipping in water? Are you able to tap into, for example, the World Food Program's supply of water? How are you getting what you need to do the work you're doing?

NELSON: So for water what we're doing right now is we're shipping in five water filtration systems and three or four desalination systems. They have not arrived yet. We are waiting for them to get here.

Right now, in the interim period while we wait for those devices -- and those will give us -- will serve 25,000 families with those units as soon as they arrive. But in the interim, our water engineers are out right now, they're working with the communities to identify where would be appropriate places to put them, as well as we've also gone out and are working to identify any existing water wells that have been damaged in the earthquake but that can be quickly fixed. So those are some quick band-aids we can put on there while we're waiting for our other systems to arrive, which really help the problem here.

In terms of coordinating with the WFP, we're doing that on our food distributions. We're working to distribute high energy biscuits. The WFP has them in a warehouse in stock here and we're working with them to actually take them that last mile and get them out to the families in need.

HARRIS: One last question for you, Mercy Corps, my understanding, is putting together a work-for-cash program. What's the idea here and how does it work?

NELSON: OK. This is a program we're going to probably be starting up next week and in the coming weeks. It is basically a program that's a little bit akin to, say, the WPA program in America.

The idea is to get the Haitian people fully engaged in their own recovery, so we basically hire the local community people to go out and clean up their neighborhoods, get debris and we pay them a basic wage. That wage allows them to actually go out and buy what they need versus being dependent on assistance and handouts from aid organizations. Lets them stand on their own feet.

It also has a really positive, I believe, emotional and psychological impact on the people, that they actually are then engaged in their recovery and are not just simply standing by.

HARRIS: I like that. I hope you can get it up running and I hope it's wildly successful for you.

Good to see you, Cassandra Nelson of Mercy Corps. Thanks for the time.

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