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Cordaid Haïti

Haiti: five years after the earthquake

On January 12th, it will be five years since Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake. 220.000 people lost their lives and 300.000 were wounded. Cordaid was already operational on the island back then, working with about 30 local organizations. After the earthquake, we started an office to co-ordinate the emergency aid. Cordaid provided help with the money raised from a Dutch nationwide relief aid campaign. Aid was quickly directed at food and medical support, psycho-social aid and reconstruction. The largest program focused on building houses. Five years onwards, Cordaid is still active on the island.

Jan Voordouw, Cordaid’s Country Director in Haiti looks back on the impact of the disaster, the effect of Cordaid’s programs and the ‘lessons learned’.

Jan Voordouw: Just after the earthquake struck during the late afternoon of January 12, 2010, I received the first phone calls from friends and colleagues in Haiti, reporting where they were and what they saw: cracked roads, multiple collapsed buildings, confused people; there was also a massive cloud of dust above the city, indicating the extent of the destruction to viewers from the hills above.

Jan Voordouw at work after the earthquake in 2010

At the time, I was Director of a Caribbean communication development organization and I received these calls in my office in Jamaica.  A few days later I arrived in Haiti to search for colleagues, see what direct assistance could be given, cash on hand to allow them and their families to buy food.  My staff was thankfully OK, but had lost close family members.

Traveling around the directly affected zones, Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel, I met acquaintances and heard about their losses.  It was clear that a great many people had died.  The figure would later be established at around 230,000.  Schools, churches, nearly all the Ministries, police stations, media, banks, hotels, all type of offices had collapsed and crushed people within.  The nation had lost many teachers (sitting in school buildings between day and evening classes), workers in government, police and media and a significant part of professionals, those who work in offices. Organizations from the UN to small NGOs had lost leaders and key workers.

Some Cordaid statistics:

International help came in quickly. But at first it was very hard for the Haitian leaders in government, local authorities and organizations to become fully involved.  After all, you had no house, your kids had no school, you worked from the yard of your office and you had lost many colleagues. Many people were traumatized and took time to heal.

Many people were traumatized and took
time to heal.

I know several professionals who left the country during the week after the quake, to start over elsewhere. Also, many capable people had migrated during the violent years 2004-2006.  The human capital of Haiti was further reduced by this event.

Palace in Port-au-Prince, 2010

A different country – or not?

Now in January 2015, on the one hand, I find Haiti a different place, not comparable to the Haiti before the earthquake.  But on the other hand, there are also areas where no progress was made or where problems are as deep as ever.

The population of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince has nearly doubled in 5 years.  Much relief and reconstruction focused on the city, there were opportunities and therefore people moved there.  Although still close to 90,000 people are in tents and temporary shelters, the region around the city has urbanized, housing many more people now than before the earthquake.

There are enormous improvements in the road network, sidewalks and street lights.  There is more police and a bit more public order.  Schools, churches, offices have been rebuilt.  Many more kids go to school than before.

The government and public institutions are stronger now than before the earthquake. It starts from more control at the airport, better tax collection or more rigorous planning processes.  Investments have been made in technology, tourism and other areas.  Also, the country has also become steadily safer since the difficult years 2004-2006.  Haiti has been featured in international media as a “new tourism destination.”

Haitian civil society, which also had lost a lot of key people, recovered and is on a path to strengthen itself further.
However, the traditional divide between “the Republic of Port-au-Prince” and the rest of Haiti is still there and even grew.  After the earthquake, there was a massive focus on Port-au-Prince where much of the international help was received.  Rural areas have stayed further behind. Decentralization is still very rudimentary and many groups in the rural areas are as weak as ever. Access to justice has not become better.  Proper health systems have remained elusive, while a new disease, cholera, was introduced from Asia.

T-shelter in 2014 (Cordaid/Jean Jacques Augustin)

And over the past years, unfortunately the political process did not make progress, groups as polarized as ever. Elections have not been held since 2010/11 and a certain level of political repression returned.  The entire parliament and a third of the senate will come to the end of their terms by the second Monday in January 2015.  This happens to be the 5th anniversary of the earthquake.

Cordaid going further

Cordaid had been working in Haiti through many partner organizations for decades.  Following the earthquake, it started a large relief and shelter/housing program.  A mental health program was also done in many parts of the country to help people recover from traumas. 

Together with the residents in various zones, Cordaid reconstructed neighborhoods in rural as well as urban areas.  We found or set up committees of residents, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that local people would be in charge and coordinate well with others.  Together with these committees, 4,800 shelters were built for the most-needy and the owners of 1,400 houses were helped to retrofit their homes.  Local employers and workers were trained in safe building techniques.

Although the relief and reconstruction phase was over by mid-2012, Cordaid kept working with the residents in these communities.

Although the relief and reconstruction phase was over by mid-2012, Cordaid kept working with the residents in these communities.  When I joined Cordaid as Country Director in mid-2013, the local committees were not only still there, but were actively continuing their work.

This included further developing their neighborhoods, ensuring the production and marketing of sufficient food.  Or training various leaders in disaster preparedness or how to mediate conflicts, increase safety and security and encourage better access to justice.

In our projects, local people are in the driver’s seat to make their communities less fragile.  Cordaid cares, will continue to act by helping in the planning of next steps and share expertise and resources.

A church after the earthquake

Read more about the Cordaid projects on Haiti.