The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 plunged an alarmingly fragile population into disaster. Over 220,000 people died, 250,000 were wounded, and 1.2 million left homeless. Hundreds of thousands of survivors fled the cities, increasing pressure on already scarce resources in rural areas.
With a national team in place since 1997 and a strong network of partner organisations working with Haiti's poorest communities, ActionAid's response began immediately.
Relief to reconstruction
The first 3 months were the most intense. Our staff and partners focused on providing food, cooking utensils, hygiene kits, tents and tarpaulins and helping survivors in dealing with the emotional impact of shock and loss. We reached tens of thousands of people, including children like 3 year old Cherlandine, and worked with teams of women and men to improve women's safety in camps (see the video below).
As the initial emergency phase passed, we turned to plugging the gap in lost family income and reducing risk of future disasters. By providing wages for local people to work on community projects, we helped to strengthen resilience to the heavy storms and rains that frequently visit Haiti. Together we completed projects such as building hillside terraces in Thiotte and fixing gullies in Philippeaux to protect people, crops and homes from floods and landslides.
The final phase of emergency response is all about reconstruction and supporting 200,000 of the most vulnerable Haitians to get their lives back on track. One of our key achievements has been constructing and equipping schools and training teachers enabling 660 children to access quality education.
Eye to eye
While there are many concrete achievements, Haiti's recovery has been beset with challenges. One of the biggest is the lack of availability of land to build homes for the 390,000 quake survivors still living in tents and temporary shelters who don't own their own land. In response to the housing crisis, ActionAid supported the creation of a campaign known as “Je nan Je” in Creole (meaning “Eye to Eye”).
Since Je nan Je launched in 2011, grassroots organisations and thousands of people affected by the earthquake have come together to press the government to allocate land for homes and to demand greater transparency in the way reconstruction funds are spent.
After several public hearings and peaceful demonstrations, the government responded. A parliamentary commission tasked with creating laws to guarantee land and housing rights - including for Haiti's most vulnerable - is due to report its progress in January 2013. A milestone in the quest for good governance.
Thanks to Je nan Je, there has also been practical progress in securing land for homes. Emboldened by the campaign, Marie-Charles Juste Luce, who lives in Mariani camp took up the issue with the mayor of the nearby town Gressier. The Mayor provided a plot of land and ActionAid began building 160 semi-permanent houses, in partnership with local authorities, organisations and communities. In 2013, these houses will offer secure homes for some of Haiti's most vulnerable families.
As Marie-Charles says, everyone has the right to a safe place to live. But the combination of poverty and disasters in Haiti presents a huge obstacle. In the last 6 months alone we faced two hurricanes (Isaac and Sandy) and severe floods in the north. The cholera epidemic, first noted back in August 2010, continues to this day.
That’s why ActionAid is investing in “preparedness”, ensuring that we – and the communities we work with – are better able to respond when disasters strike. One way we do this is by storing vital items, such as hygiene kits, closer to vulnerable communities, so that they can be distributed quickly when needed.
When Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti in October, killing 54 people and destroying over 18,000 homes, we were able to get supplies to five badly affected communities within hours helping them to prevent cholera and - with the help of cash grants - buy essential food supplies.
Fighting food crisis
Another disaster now looms large: the prospect of a catastrophic food crisis. Haiti’s agricultural sector, which accounts for around a quarter of national income, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Farmers like Silianne Médé and Nessilo Dorestant lost up to 90% of their crops.
As well as calling for an international response, ActionAid is placing sustainable agriculture at the heart of our work in Haiti - we believe this is critical to ensure Haitian's right to food security. We will promote agriculture that strengthens ecosystems - protecting resources like land and water - while helping farmers to diversify their sources of income. We'll also be supporting producers to organise, to gain equal access to markets and to defend the rights of women farmers and traders.
Mesye Dam, chapo ba
Haiti's reconstruction rollercoaster has shown once again that when people are involved in decisions that affect their lives - and active in shaping their future - progress is possible. ActionAid will continue to work to ensure that this happens. As we approach 3 years since the earthquake, I would like to thank all of our donors by saying “Mesye Dam, chapo ba” (“I take my hat off to you”).
Without your support, our work with 200,000 of Haiti's poorest people would have been impossible during these difficult three years. Thank you for your accompaniment - from the earthquake in 2010, through all the tropical storms in between, and most recently after Hurricane Sandy. We continue to count on individuals and institutions like you to strengthen the solidarity chain to build a new Haiti. Together we can do this - by building resilience to disasters and changing policies that keep people poor and vulnerable.
The end of 2012 brings closure to a turbulent but thriving time for the country and for ActionAid Haiti. With the earthquake behind us I look forward to continuing our stand, alongside Haiti's poorest, for the right to a better future.