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Aid and sustainable reconstruction in Haiti
Melina Schoenborn and Myriam Fehmiu
Photo: Benoit Aquin/CECI
In the hours following the violent earthquake that rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, the migration began: the hungry and thirsty population started its search for food, water and shelter in the capital and outside the city. More than one month after the disaster, the Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI), a Canadian organization working in Haiti for the past 40 years, assessed the results of its humanitarian actions: aid operations were carried out rapidly due to a solid local network, but it did experience some setbacks.
The director of CECI in Haiti, Guypsy Michel, believes that the aid was effective overall: “In a country that is so fragile at the institutional, environmental and human level, it’s hard to believe in perfect distribution of aid. However, the most urgent problems have been taken care of: access to water and food.”
A few days after the quake, emergency supplies and provisions were delivered to the tarmac at the Port-au-Prince airport and CECI’s trucks were loaded up to begin distribution. Less than a week later, 35 tons of medicine, solutions, blankets, antiseptics, non-perishable goods and water were given out, followed by further deliveries. Then, the first medical team of Haitian-Canadians arrived and was sent out to respond to the most urgent needs and provide immediate care.
A team of 150 national employees also had to deal with a critical lack of fuel, chaotic traffic, the threat of health epidemics and the impatience of the earthquake victims. With aid organizations from all parts of the globe adopting different approaches, co-ordination among NGOs was also a sizeable challenge.
To date, 170,000 Haitians have benefited from CECI’s operations. But beyond emergency humanitarian efforts, numerous challenges are taking shape for the months to come. Among them, providing enough shelter for the millions of homeless people is a considerable challenge. The rainy season will be starting soon and according to Guypsy Michel, this will require tents strong enough to last in tropical rainstorms.
Photo: Benoit Aquin/CECI
Taking the pressure off Port-au-Prince
If there is to be reconstruction, then space is required. We want to take the pressure off Port-au-Prince, but we must be able to offer support services to those evacuating the city. Hospitals, sports facilities, churches and other civil society organizations have the confidence of Haitians, but CECI has identified that access to resources remains an issue. To make sure that the operations are more efficient, local teams have joined international and local partners, who are already familiar with their communities.
For example, the Artibonite region has taken on many of the displaced. At the beginning, CECI helped hospitals cope with new arrivals in conjunction with the Center for International Cooperation in Health and Development (CCISD). CECI has attempted to offer assistance and advice on the best way to manage the camps of displaced people, for example, by training community leaders in charge of sub-committees taking care of water treatment, security in the camps, and distribution of supplies and provisions.
“If we want to provide food to the victims, we must first ask: what provisions can we buy right here in Haiti?” asks Chantal-Sylvie Imbeault, deputy executive director of CECI. The organization buys rice, flour and root vegetables grown on Haitian soil in order to stimulate the local economy. As well, food stocks departing from Canada in bulk are sorted once they arrive by teams of Haitian workers recruited by local organizations on site. “It’s a way of creating jobs,” she explains.
Many disaster victims have been taken in by their extended family whenever possible. This has created an enormous amount of economic pressure on those families who want to help, as they don’t have sufficient means. It is essential to provide support to host families who are trying to feed a dozen mouths on a single salary.
CECI also plans to set up a ‘cash for work’ system to inject some much needed money into the local economy. As well, local residents can carry out periodic prevention and reconstruction work in exchange for cash at the end of the day.
Civil society at the heart of the reconstruction efforts
Donations collected in Canada are used exclusively for urgent needs: food, water, medical care and shelter. But it has been estimated that it may take up to 10 years following the quake to rebuild the infrastructure. CECI has resumed work on other development projects already in progress before the quake and all the teams have returned to their posts. These projects, addressing sustainable economic and social development, are necessary to help ensure economic recovery and food security of local communities. The projects that are already underway, such as increasing rice production, promoting the value of the female workforce or training young entrepreneurs, will have to be adapted to face Haiti’s new reality.
It is imperative that Haitian authorities, political parties and civil society be at the centre of discussions in order to work out a plan to guide reconstruction efforts. For the time being, it is difficult to mobilize people who are also injured, displaced or affected by the disaster. Yet, in order to ensure that reconstruction is sustainable, Haitians should be leading efforts to rebuild their country.
Melina Schoenborn works with the Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI). Myriam Fehmiu is the Communications Advisor at CECI. For more information, please visit www.ceci.ca.