Haiti Earthquake Update (3/8/2010)

  • Posted on: 8 March 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

The United Nations has called this the most challenging disaster response in its history.  More challenges lie ahead, one of which is the upcoming rainy season.  While it will not begin for several weeks, heavy rains are already occurring sporadically.  Recently, eight people were killed in flooding around Les Cayes.  The rains also caused a landslide that destroyed a school in Cap Haitian two weeks ago.  Those who have been displaced in Port au Prince require solutions, whether that be temporary shelter or staying with a host family.  Their protection, health, and well being depends upon finding shelter before the rains become a daily event.


The government is still trying to re-establish itself.  Some estimate that 40% of the Haitian civil service died in the earthquake.  While all Ministers survived, most government buildings were destroyed.  The revenues of the Haitian government, low to begin with, took a hit.  According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Haiti’s economy will shrink by at least 10% this year.  Remittances, which represent 20% of GDP, have cushioned the economic contraction to a certain extent.  Almost 70 percent of the country's revenue came from 500 companies. Of those, four telecom companies accounted for 25 percent and banks constituted roughly 20 percent.  As of February 24, USAID-funded cash-for-work programs employed nearly 12,499 persons at 259 sites sites in Port-au-Prince, Petit Goâve, Les Cayes, Cap-Haïtien, Gonaïves, and St. Marc.  These jobs are only temporary, rotational work opportunties but they provide much needed income to disaster-affected families.


Acting U.N. mission chief for Haiti Edmond Mulet said that legislative elections must be rescheduled as soon as possible. Until then, it is the responsibility of the Preval Administration to coordinate and to lead this response with the support of the international community.  This includes being able to answer the hard questions – How to reconstruct Port au Prince?  How will a building code be enforced?  What if people can’t afford to build homes to code? How to reverse environmental degradation throughout the country? How to attract investment outside of Port au Prince given a lack of infrastructure?  What schools and health care facilities should be rehabilitated and/or rebuilt first?   What is the future of agriculture? How best to engage the Diaspora in the reconstruction effort?


The answers to some of these questions will become available by the end of the month.  Government planners and international experts are in the process of completing a blueprint to reconstruct Haiti.  A team of 150 Haitian government officials and 90 international experts will submit the plan to the government on Friday.  It will then be revised and presented at the March 31 Haiti Donors Conference in New York City.  One aspect of the plan is to decongest the camps as much as possible ahead of the rapidly approaching rainy season.  Another aspect involves decentralizing as much as possible by making Port au Prince smaller and secondary cities bigger.  This will be impossible unless opportunities to work and study are not spread out as well.  Concerning education, Alex Dupuy, a sociology professor at Wesleyan University, emphasizes that the government should build community colleges, trade schools, and primary schools in the countryside, which will promote development over the long term while creating jobs.


Trenton Daniel writes in the Miami Herald that momentum is growing for decentralization.   He notes several ideas under consideration in the blueprint.  These include:


• Opening passport and drivers license bureaus outside Port-au-Prince, which would spare rural residents the hassle and expense of schlepping to the capital to renew identification papers.


• Creating 200 ``welcome centers'' in villages and towns, which would provide new arrivals with education and health services, relief services, government services. They would be temporary posts initially and would later become permanent.


• Establishing a national civic service corps modeled after the New Deal, which would hire young people to work in both rural and urban areas.


• Developing an apparel industry outside Port-au-Prince and providing access to financial services that are almost nil in the provinces.


• Launching construction projects to build 10 roads, 15 bridges, and expanding the little-used international airport in the northern city of Cap Haitien.


President Preval will meet with President Obama and Congress Wednesday. It is anticipated that he will focus on Haiti’s most pressing needs such as fixing drainage canals to prevent flooding and purchasing seeds and fertilizers needed for a successful harvest.  Preval has stated that he plans not just to reconstruct Port au Prince, but to rebuild Haiti.  This is key given that almost 600,000 have fled Port au Prince to the long neglected countryside and secondary cities.  Preval seems to understand this, noting that jobs in the provinces depend upon roads, electricity, education, and health care.  Prime Minister Bellerive has also said that plan will lay out where the Haitian government wants the country be in three, five, and ten years.


Loune Viaude of Partners in Health writes in the Boston Globe that one of the reasons why aid delivery has been so slow, why previous development plan have rarely been successful, and why billions of dollars in funding over decades have not improved conditions is that those with the greatest stake, Haitians themselves, have not been given a seat at the table.  She recommends that “…representatives of donor states, government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations regularly meet with Haitians to discuss their communities’ needs, be it a water source, a school, a road or health center, and then determine specifics like where it should be constructed, how it will be maintained and when it will be completed so communities know what to expect before breaking ground. If it is behind schedule, poorly maintained, or never built, community members should be able to report back to an independent body that is partnered with the Haitian government and can track all such complaints.”  We couldn't agree more.  The best way to rebuild Haiti is to include all Haitian people - the goverrnment, civil society, and the Diaspora - in the reconstruction process.


The Protection cluster is generally advocating to increase focus on facilitating return of people to their original places of origin (where possible) or to stay with host families. Relocating families to new transitional shelters should be the last resort for  people who have no other alternatives.  The Shelter Cluster intends to deliver two  tarpaulins to each family that needs them by May 1.  Almost 40 percent (525,000) of the approximately 1.3 million homeless people have received some kind of shelter material, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) which is managing efforts to improve shelter.  Initially, the Haitian government had planned to set up tent cities far from the devastated areas of the capital.  The government now plans to return as many as possible to the places they fled.   Tents are being deemphasized as they are not going to be able to hold up against the rains. The tarpaulins are said to be able to last several years.


If houses are going to be rebuilt, rubble must be removed. Haiti's leaders, working with officials from the United Nations and United States, last week approved a rubble-disposal plan that is expected to take at least two years to complete.  USAID awarded a $3.5 million contract to PHS Group, a Silver Spring, Md., engineering firm, for cleanup work in Haiti, the first earthquake-related contract to go to a Haitian American.  Already, Haitians are scavenging rubble for scrap metal.  Early assessments indicate 90 percent of debris can be recycled. Officials estimate that 25 million cubic yards of debris will need to be removed in Haiti as part of reconstruction efforts. 


To help move the rubble, the Clinton Foundation has donated, through the Logistics Cluster, 40 International trucks of 10-15 metric tons capacity for inter-agency use.  Another 140 smaller 1.5 -2.5 metric tons vehicles were also donated and will be registered and insured by WFP for use by organizations with mid- to long-term projects in Haiti, as well as by government partners.


To date, there have not been any infectious disease outbreaks in Port au Prince.  Even before the earthquake though, water and sanitation were among the greatest health challenges facing Haiti.  Less than a third of Port-au-Prince's residents had proper toilets.  Former President Clinton has called sanitation the most pressing need facing quake victims and "particularly for little kids…They have no place to go to the bathroom and, as a result they may be contaminating every piece of standing water…and that could lead to diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and tetanus, causing a second wave of casualties." Haitian officials hope to have in place at least 18,000 latrines, one for about every 50 displaced people, within a few weeks. Authorities want to eventually cut that ratio to one latrine for every 20 people.     The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has handed out hygiene kits with buckets, soap, toothbrushes and sanitary napkins to 86,000 families.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched an interactive tool to help track more than 414 spontaneous sites in and around Port-au-Prince, which currently shelter more than 603,000 earthquake affected individuals. The map, developed with the humanitarian information management organization iMMAP, The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Google, can be accessed by anyone.


First download Google Earth, then click here.  IOM updates this mapping tool on a weekly basis with information gathered through a field-tested Displacement Tracking Matrix used in numerous emergencies to accurately identify gaps in response and service delivery.  IOM is currently coordinating with its partners, including UNHCR, the registration of all residents of priority settlements to identify the home origin of those living in the displaced camps.


UNITAR/UNOSAT, EC JRC and the World Bank produced a building damage assessment atlas series for Haiti, including 1,051 map-sheets. Places and areas for which building damage atlases are produced include:  Delmas, Petionville, Petit Goave, Grande Goave, Tabarre, Gressier, Cite Soleil, Jacmel, Carrefour, Leogane  and Port-au-Prince. All of the above maps and analyses, including a building damage intensity map for  Delmas are available here.


The World Food Program (WFP) is launching a food "surge" in Haiti from Saturday to boost rations for nearly two million people.  Assorted commodities are to be distributed for 30 days and a two-week rice ration will also be provided.  MINUSTAH will provide security for all food distribution efforts.  Coupons will be exchanged for the food baskets comprising rice, beans, fortified flour, oil and salt.  The WFP said it has also started a program to feed school-age children in Port-au-Prince.  The initiative has already begun and will initially distribute meals of rice and beans, and fortified porridge to 72,000 children from school yards across the capital.  Eventually it aims to feed 800,000 children.


The agriculture portion of the UN appeal is sorely under-funded.  Agriculture may not seem life-saving, but over the long-term, it certainly is.  The majority of Haiti’s population is rural and depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.  However, the World Bank notes that 57% of all food in Haiti is imported.  More than 2.4 million Haitians are food-insecure.  Given land tenure issues and the extent of environmental degradation, it would be unrealistic to expect that Haiti can produce 100% of its food.  However, by producing more domestically, Haiti can reinvigorate the agricultural economy and promote food security at the same time. 


According to the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET), food security in Haiti has rebounded somewhat as a result of  1) the provision of emergency food and non- food aid; 2) increased remittances; and 3) increased labor opportunities through cash- for-work activities and the resumption of casual labor and small business activities.  Local availability of basic commercial food stocks is good in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, augmented by the large-scale distribution of food aid rice (approximately 10,000 MT).  However, the commercial supply of imported foods, such as rice, is insufficient, which could create shortages and price hikes in the months ahead.


The spring planting season has begun and contributes about 60% of domestic crop production.  The productivity of this harvest may will determine the extent to which rural families can continue to host displaced friends and family from Port au Prince.  The hungry season between April and May may start sooner this year because of the earthquake.  In order to improve food security, FEWS-NET reccomends that the Haitian government and its partners: (1) increase efforts to improve environmental health and sanitation conditions in IDP settlements and points of sale for food products; (2) increase deliveries of inputs to farmers with the planting season fast approaching; 3) emphasize the provision of non- food aid, particularly temporary shelters and psychological support for earthquake victims; and 4) develop contingency plans for the upcoming rainy season and hurricane season.  Over the longer term though, though, government planning will have to lay out a vision for organized agriculture in Haiti.  Most Haitians do not irrigate, use fertilizers and/or improved seeds.


Concerning health, most of the focus is on rebuilding the health care system, providing post-operative care, and determining how best to meet the long term needs of amputees and paraplegics.  The Global Health Cluster is discussing how it can help the Ministry of Health develop a national Health Information System so that it has the information it needs to manage programs and make good policies.  The Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot has opened a prosthetics centers.  The Partners in Health (PIH) Hospital in Cange has established a partnership with the Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) to increase access to prosthetics. With a well-stocked factory in partnership with prosthetics manufacturer Hanger, HAS has begun accepting patients from the Central Plateau and Artibonite regions.


The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities announced  on March 5 the creation of a working group to track the situation of the disabled in Haiti.  Last month, the group of human rights experts called on the authorities to ensure that persons with disabilities fully participate in the decision-making process for the country's recovery and reconstruction, and that sustained efforts be centred on the long-term development needs of disabled persons in Haiti.


There has also been welcome attention to the health and other needs of women.  Haitian Minister of Women’s Affairs Marjorie Michel visited the Pan American Health Organization (Western Hemisphere Wing of the WHO) to explain the probems women in Haiti are facing after the earthquake ranging from rape and sexual exploitation to shortages of food and lack of access to basic obstetric services.  These were problems before the earthquake but they are even more so now.  Haitian women and girls are often hesitant to report rapes because of the risk of stigmatization or possible retaliation.  Vulnerable women may consent to sexual exploitation in exchange for protection – especially those who may have lost homes and/or family support networks.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is supporting and training "brigades" to help prevent violence in tent communities, assist women who have been raped or who need reproductive care to get the appropriate services. 


Haitian women are holding the country together.  Over half are economically active.  They will overwhelmingly care for children, sick, and the disabled.  Women generally do not blow the family savings on rum, borlette, and other men.  They both produce most of the food in the developing world and make sure children are fed even if it means going without.  Only five percent of the Haitian parliament are women, as compared to a Latin America/Caribbean average of twenty percent.  It is time to promote women’s rights, women's health, and to  and to empower them to be community and governmental leaders.


The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) held a special session on the protection and assistance needs of Haitian women.  Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, said that "we want to make real the idea that gender issues should be a priority in our organization, and Haiti is a real opportunity to show it, not only with words but with actions…gender must be taken into account in all emergencies, what happens to women and girls cannot be left to chance. We must care for the most vulnerable and keep them in safe places.”


Brazil and Haiti have signed several cooperative agreements to promote cooperation concerning water resources, agriculture and education.  Jamaica has offered Haiti the use of it national building code which was only completed in 2009.  It could be useful to Haiti given that it meets international standards for conservation, fire safety, etc.  In addition, Jamaica has also offered to assist Haiti in developing a strategic plan for tourism.  Every country in the Caribbean benefits from tourism to a certain extent and Haiti is very much in need of the investment.


The European Union (EU) foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton visited Haiti last week with pledges of long-term aid, and sought to defend the delay in making the trip.  Ashton emphasized the 100 million euros (135 million dollars) that the EU released Tuesday to help Haiti tackle its challenges. She said that took direct EU aid to more than 120 million euros, out of a tranche of more than 300 million euros committed by Brussels to help Haiti. National donations by individual EU states raised total European aid to Haiti to 609 million euros (828 million dollars).


American citizens have donated over one billion dollars to date to humanitarian responders both large and small.  Thank you to all who have contributed.  The Haiti Donors’ Conference will be a a major milestone in the reconstruction process.  Hopefully, we'll have a clearer sense of proposed planning before then.


Is there an issue you feel must be addressed in the blueprint?  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section



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