Haiti Earthquake Update (6/13/2010)

  • Posted on: 13 June 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

John Holmes, the UN Humanitarian Chief, yesterday expressed frustration with the humanitarian response in Haiti.  Holmes stated finding available land for transitional shelters, slow decision-making by the government and new waves of Haitians moving into the settlements (often for services not available in their own neighborhoods) have made responding to the crisis particularly difficult.  The Haitian government, responsible for setting priorities and developing plans, lacks staffing and expertise.  It is being pulled in many directions at once on issues relating to shelter, hurricane contingency planning, governance reforms, elections, law enforcement, food security, and decentralization. 


The Haitian government’s Ministry of Interior’s Department of Civil Protection (DPC) is responsible for the registration of the displaced, but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its partners are doing most of the heavy lifting.  As of June 8, IOM had registered 547,000 individuals living in 155 settlements.  Most settlements are in Port au Prince but there are also 25 in Leogane, 15 in Grand Goave, 5 in Petit Goave and 6 in Jacmel.  IOM expects to complete the first phase of the registration process by the end of July 2010, registering the heaviest concentrations of displaced persons in the Port-au-Prince area.  IOM then plans to complete the registration of the remaining smaller sites in Port-au-Prince, as well as of individuals residing with host families, in November 2010.  IOM has been using a range of communication tools including messaging through a MINUSTAH  “soap opera,” a running comic strip, and teams of community mobilizers to engage displaced communities and disseminate up to date information.


Humanitarian responders are working as fast as possible to either move the most vulnerable to new settlements or to make the sites where they are as safe as possible, for example by establishing drainage.  On June 9, the Haitian government formally granted permission for relief agencies to move individuals from Pétion-Ville  Club/Golf Delmas 48 settlements to areas of origin in Delmas 32.   Relocation is also planned from Champs des Mars settlements to Fort National neighborhoods.


Land ownership remains a major obstacle to protecting and assisting the displaced.  Sixty percent of the sites that IOM has assessed are located on privately owned land.  Of these, many landowners are resisting mitigation measures.  In addition, there have been instances of landowners displacing survivors a second time by forcing them off of their properties.  According to the Haitian government, a temporary moratorium is in place to prevent forced evictions.  Landowners should not be forcing people off their land unless there is an alternative space that meets minimum standards has been identified.  The government has yet to widely convey this policy and to enforce it evenly.  MINUSTAH does not have a mandate for preventing evictions and local law enforcement authorities are often unaware of this directive.  Another challenge has been getting the Haitian government to provide approval for building semi-permanent shelters made of wood with iron roofs, which will be better able to withstand the elements.  There is little land available in Port au Prince.  While land has been identified outside of the city, negotiating agreements between the government, landowners, and local authorities has been very difficult.


USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) announced on June 11 an allocation of $3 million to Habitat for Humanity for building shelter.  This also includes a component for Habitat to build the capacity of the Haitian government to carry out shelter planning.  On shelter and other issues, the Haitian government is in the driver's seat but overwhelmed with its responsibilities.  United Nations and non governmental actors are putting their hurricane contingency plans together, but are having to do so in the absence of a national plan by the Haitian government.  This matters because the hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, could be especially active.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecasted 14 to 23 named storms, with eight to 14 developing into hurricanes.  In Port au Prince, plastic tents will not be able to withstand very heavy winds.  Coastal cities such as Gonaives, Jacmel, and Les Cayes will also be vulnerable to tropical storms throughout the hurricane season.


The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) reports that it has pre-positioned emergency rations in 31 locations across Haiti.  Alternative transport systems are being put in place to bypass mountain roads that may become blocked by mudslides, including the use of containerized cargo at Jacmel and Gonaives ports and the use of a tugboat and barge capable of transporting food and other life-saving supplies and equipment, even cars and trucks.  WFP’s food and cash for work programmes are also helping communities to protect themselves by creating flood barriers and rehabilitating canals.  WFP reported that food-for-work programs have employed more than 17,500 people as of June 4 and provided food for 87,500 beneficiaries.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has an emergency task force on standby and is prepositioning emergency relief supplies in 10 municipalities. IOM has also joined MINUSTAH and OCHA to form a Critical Incident Response Team and has arranged for two engineers to be on 24 hour standby.  Currently, two emergency hotlines—one in Creole and one in French and English—are available  for Port-au-Prince area residents.  I'll post the numbers when I find them.  In the event of emergencies caused by heavy rains, the idea is for camp managers to call the hotline, and teams staffed by IOM, MINUSTAH, OCHA, and Haitian officials will deploy to assess the situation, facilitate resolution, and relocate affected populations, if necessary. 


On June 2, the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (IHRC) held its first official meeting in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic at the World Conference on Haiti.  Donor countries were called upon to live up to more than $5 billion in pledges so that reconstruction programs can be adequately financed.  Brazil provided the Haitian government with $15 million for direct budget support and $40 million toward the Multi-donor Trust Fund that the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission will use to finance projects.


Protests against the government continue to occur sporadically.  The Security Council unanimously voted to add 680 international police to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti.  There have been reports of gang related conflict in and around the settlements.  Insecurity could disrupt reconstruction activities, create a poor climate for job creation, and disrupt the flow of goods to markets.  In addition, security will be needed to hold credible elections, which will hopefully defuse tensions.  President Preval has been called upon by the United States and other partner governments to set a date for elections.  The Miami Herald reported that a presidential decree scheduling elections for November 28th is currently under review.


The USAID supported Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET) remains one of the best sources on food security in Haiti.  Not surprisingly, FEWSNET notes that food security rapidly deteriorated in the aftermath of the January 12th earthquake, particularly in the Port–au-Prince metropolitan area. Since then, the mass distribution of emergency food and non–food aid, the gradual resumption of business activity in the capital, the increase in cash–for–work programs (over 100,000 temporary jobs have been created) and a relatively low rate of inflation have since improved the food security outlook.  The most food insecure areas are reported to be concentrated in parts of the Northwestern peninsula, where the past two harvests were extremely poor, and in remote areas of the Grand Anse and Nippes.


With response programs not yet fully established and the harvest of spring crops just beginning in some parts of the country, FEWS NET estimates that the number of food insecure Haitians is expected to increase slightly in May and June, and then decline between July and September with the spring harvest and the gradual increase in reconstruction programs.  CNSA, WFP, FEWS-NET and other partners will carry out an initial assessment of the impact of the earthquake on food security in June–July, and then the comprehensive food security and vulnerability analysis will take place July–August.


FEWS-NET notes the period from the end of March to the beginning of June generally marks the hunger season, with food supplies in virtually all parts of the country at their lowest level of the year.  Some harvests are already underway, specifically harvests of rice and vegetable crops in single‐cropping plain areas (of the Artibonite and the Plaine des Cayes) and rainy mountain areas, respectively; mango harvests in plain and plateau areas; and scattered harvests of banana and sweet potato crops all across the country.  FEWS-NET goes on to note that these harvests account for less than ten percent of national crop production and are too limited to meet the country's food needs.  By the beginning of April, most importers of food products, particularly rice, beans, and cooking oil, indicated that business volumes were gradually increasing to pre‐earthquake level.


Concerning remittances, FEWS-NET notes that Haitian immigrants, particularly in Canada and the United States, have increased support to families affected by the earthquake.  However, these remittances are destined mostly for middle‐income urban households (which also benefit from food and cash‐for‐work programs) rather than to rural households.  Agricultural support is greatly needed in the countryside.  The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced in early June that it will make available $200 million in grants over five years to strengthen land tenure rights, boost agricultural production, increase market access for farmers and reinforce food security in Haiti. The grants will cover a quarter of the total cost of a Haitian government plan to revamp farming after the Jan. 12 earthquake.


The Miami Herald published an article on the difficulties faced by the Haitian elderly in the months after the earthquake.  Assistance programs have not always addressed their needs.  For example, elders without teeth are not able to eat hard protein biscuits distributed by humanitarian responders.  HelpAge, an NGO specialized in caring for the elderly, has taken over much of the day-to-day duties at the Asile Communale and continues to mobilize efforts to assist seniors living in tent cities throughout Port-au-Prince, Petit Goave and Léogne. The group has provided financial support to eight church-run nursing homes that oversee 400 seniors, and has set up protective areas at certain camps to cluster together seniors needing attention. They have also launched a radio campaign urging families not to forsake their elder relatives as there have been reports of older people being abandoned.


We were very lucky that the Program of Essential Medicines and Supplies (PROMESS), administered by the WHO Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was not affected by the earthquake.  Since 1992, PROMESS has been the central distributor of medicines and medical supplies.  It continues to serve as the central repository of vaccines in Haiti and cooperates with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in storing and distributing supplies for their health programs.  All international donations received by PROMESS are distributed at no cost to public health facilities, health clinics, and temporary health services.  PROMESS now has a new wesbite.


It is hard to get much done in Haiti when the World Cup is taking place.  Most will be rooting for Brazil, Haiti’s adopted team.  A minority will be cheering for Agentina.  Either way, the event provides a welcome escape for many.  According to Reuters, the Minister of Culture and Communication is providing 137 municipalities with two large-screen television sets and one generator.  The MINUSTAH communication director said two giant screens have been set up in the capital's stadium to allow about 10,000 people to watch the games every day.


While we can't keep you up to date about the World Cup matches, we will continue to post any new information about emergency response/reconstruction efforts in Haiti.





*Photo Courtesy of the Haitian Times

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