After the earthquake that killed close to 300,000 people in January 2010, ActionAid Haiti saw an opportunity to make one disaster-prone community much much safer.
Philippeaux is a desperately poor community that sits in the middle of well-off suburb Pétion-Ville, in Haiti's capital Port au Prince. With small makeshift homes on steep hillsides, a ravine in the centre and no other drainage, Philippeaux is a text-book case of an area prone to floods and landslides.
Even prior to the earthquake, Philippeaux was in an almost-permanent state of emergency. The rainy and hurricane seasons would bring death and destruction leaving families to start over from scratch.
Thelson Daniel is 33. He has 2 children and has been living in Philippeaux since he was a boy. His story is typical:
I nearly died a few years ago during a major flood after about an hour of rain. I had to leave my house and climb a tree during the passage of the water which covered several houses with mound that day. A lady died in a house not too far from mine. Several homes are still under loads of rock and sand. This ravine has caused many losses in goods and lives.
During the earthquake, more than 100 homes were destroyed and ActionAid and our partner organisation COZPAM provided families with tents. But this still left residents vulnerable during heavy rains.
Reducing flooding risk was possible, but only if we all pulled together. By supporting local people in building a gully we could enable rainwater to drain away and prevent homes and tents being engulfed in debris.
Total cost of construction was US$90,000. The work started in 2010 and was completed in 2012. Using concrete and two types of rock, Philippeaux residents worked alongside experts creating banks and channels to control the water. Rotations of 50 workers a week were paid 250 gourdes (around US$5.80) a day, providing much-needed income and rebuilding hope eroded by the quake.
Three years on, I'm happy to see how this project is contributing to well being in Philippeaux. The gully even provided protection during Hurricane Sandy that killed 54 people and destroyed 18,000 homes when it hit Haiti.
When I visited before Christmas 2012, Mrs. Bernard Pierre, a long-time Philippeaux resident told me:
The work that you supported here is very fruitful and we are happy. Before the gully, the floods would bring mountains of dirt and garbage in front of us. This gully changed the whole community.
"After the passage of Sandy we have no dead and no damages to homes. That’s a miracle for us here, especially when you hear what this bad weather has done to other parts of the country. If we did not have this gully, I am sure we would have lost lives. For this I thank ActionAid and COZPAM."
While ActionAid Haiti has achieved the goal of helping Philippeaux residents to be better prepared for disasters, there is still a lot of work to be done. We will continue putting Philippeaux at the center of our advocacy work as an example of why the Haitian Government should invest in disaster preparedness to reduce risks faced in other communities.