Beyond Emergency Relief in Haiti (Groupe URD)

  • Posted on: 28 January 2011
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
Blog Tags 2 Terms: 

Below is a stock-taking document by Groupe URD which highlights common themes from the many evaluations that have been carried out concerning the humanitarian response to the earthquake.  Chief among them are the importance of urban planning in cities, agricultural revitalization in the countryside, disaster preparedness throughout the country, and the need to focus on communities and institutions rather than individuals.  You can also learn more about URD's activities in Haiti here





This paper was written by the Groupe URD team in charge of undertaking the independent 'Real Time Evaluation of DG ECHO's response to the Haiti crisis'. The purpose of this document, prepared prior to the fieldwork, is to take stock and learn from the common conclusions of the main evaluations carried out by the international humanitarian community to date. It also builds on the evaluation team’s direct knowledge from the field.  This paper was written on the basis of the following convictions:


a) Our analysis of the humanitarian response since the earthquake does not necessarily give the overall vision needed to deal with issues of development and governance in Haiti, but it has highlighted a number of fundamental issues.


b) Other crises have shown how difficult it is to move on from the emergency relief phase - this must therefore be the object of continuous reflection.


The analysis presented in this paper concerns both the type of aid which should be provided and the architecture and funding of humanitarian and reconstruction operations.





Humanitarian and reconstruction aid has to be adapted to the specific characteristics of urban contexts. In order to get away from the dead end of camps and sites, “neighborhood” approaches need to be reinforced. Extending and increasing the density of the urban fabric, and developing social accommodation are potential solutions to the housing crisis in Port-au-Prince, on the condition that they are carried out from a town planning and social perspective. Though the creation of camps on the outskirts of cities is not a solution, the creation of actual “new neighborhoods” in peripheral areas should not be excluded among the several possible solutions. This involves complex challenges for the humanitarian sector:


a. Going from a system which targets individuals to one which targets communities in an urban environment and aims to strengthen public services;


b. Accompanying or reinforcing urban administrations at different levels (neighbourhoods, municipalities, nationally) and working with development organisations and the private sector, in order to optimize the contributions of all parties.


In urban contexts, sector-based responses in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), Housing, Health and Education require know-how that humanitarian organizations do not necessarily have and longer mandates than they are given. Humanitarians therefore need to work with other actors (development organizations, urban planning agencies, local authorities, etc.) in order to find and implement solutions.  In order to carry out operations in cities, it is necessary to have the proper analytical, urban planning, technical and economic know-how (land and property management, construction and architectural techniques, etc.) in order to be able to provide appropriate aid. From a strategic point of view, it is essential to ensure that the humanitarian and reconstruction response in Port-au-Prince and the other towns affected is coordinated by people who specialize in urban matters. The Haitian context is such that there will need to be very structured dialogue with the Haitian authorities and strong political will from donors. European cities can provide a large amount of resources and a clear strategy to mobilize these cities needs to be developed in coordination with the World Bank, UN- HABITAT and specialized Haitian institutions like CIAT (Comité Interministériel d’Aménagement du Territoire)





In the initial days following the earthquake, many people from Port-au-Prince fled to rural areas to find shelter and solace. Though this phenomenon was identified reasonably early on and certain donors (DG ECHO, USAID/OFDA) allocated resources accordingly, humanitarian organizations remained primarily focused on Port-au-Prince and the areas, which had been directly affected.  As families from rural areas and small towns were unable to support the people from Port-au-Prince for very long, they rapidly returned to the capital where aid was beginning to act as a magnet attracting many rural people. The imbalance between Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country was in fact made worse.  Aid agencies need to rapidly re-activate and reinforce their programs in favor of rural communities.  It is important to make the situation in rural areas more attractive so that the displaced people who want to stay are able to do so and the rural population is able to live decently and does not have to migrate and clog up the already overpopulated cities. Donors need to urgently support rural programs, and notably those which involve reinforcing the resilience of host and displaced families and communities. Investments should continue to be made in infrastructure to open up rural areas and markets but it is also essential that it mobilises other thematic financial instruments. 




In the health sector, efforts have been made to analyze the impact of the major influx of organizations that, by providing free healthcare, have simultaneously improved poor people’s access to healthcare and weakened the private part of the sector. This analysis should make it possible to establish models for new ways of organizing the health sector with the government, economists and development actors. Donors should support these efforts as they may produce “good practices” which will be useful for other countries faced with similar problems.


A lot of work remains to be done to analyze the real impact and side effects of “cash for work” programs compared to the original objective of injecting resources into households. Though the rapid establishment of labor-intensive programs to clear rubble is itself the application of lessons learned from former urban disasters, two points still need to be analyzed: the actual impact of these programs on access to food and restoring livelihoods; and how much the work carried out contributed to the reconstruction effort.  It is important that the damage done by the disaster is not compounded by the negative or unintended consequences of programs. In the cities, for example, there is a risk of social and economic destabilization due to the free provision of water which compromises community-based economic management, or the distribution of water via imported containers (plastic tanks) next to existing water kiosks which have been abandoned. The water committees set up with the help of development NGOs in collaboration with the water authorities are also locally accepted community-based associations.  people a long way from their neighborhoods leads to the loss of local solidarity and sources of income and creates aid dependency. Technical choices for temporary shelters are as much to do with social issues as they are with the location of these “sleeping boxes” some of which are not adapted to neighborhoods which are densely populated or uneven ground.




In a country like Haiti, where cyclones and seismic activity are so common, disaster risk reduction and preparedness need to become a major part of development policy.  Disasters of this kind can not only cause terrible human loss but can also wipe out any progress made in terms of development. In the context of the major challenges of climate change, demographic growth and the increasing scarcity of inhabitable areas where there is no risk, these issues need to be placed at the heart of development agendas to make the country more resilient and strengthen the capacity of the State and communities to prevent and manage disasters.  The issue of resilience needs to be given the same importance as sustainable development and economic growth.  Greater priority needs to be given to both disaster prevention (in both rural and urban areas) and disaster preparedness at national, provincial and community levels. This needs to be done in a complementary and coordinated manner.  Due to the significant resources mobilised by Europe (as part of programmes supported by the European Commission and by Member States) and by several other donors and International institutions, it is to be hoped that there will be a significant improvement in Haiti’s capacity to respond to natural disasters both nationally and locally. However, there is a risk that the absorption capacity of national organizations will be saturated if coordination in this sector is not improved. Disaster preparedness activities (pre-positioning and decentralization of food stocks and logistics) proved to be of great value during the response to the earthquake  and should be continued.




The Haitian State was in the process of  becoming more stable when it was so severely affected by the earthquake of 12 January. Despite suffering terrible losses themselves, the State and local authorities had to coordinate relief operations. Support for these institutions, which was initially very weak, did improve, but this has now been partly frozen due to the electoral process currently underway. The European Commission has provided the United Nations with a lot of support in its efforts to develop and implement the Cluster system. Nevertheless, this disaster showed that a lot still needs to be done to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. The transferral of the responsibility for coordination to the technical ministries needs to be accelerated and needs to be accompanied by institutional support and capacity building. The integration of sector-based coordination mechanisms into governmental bodies should be the rule. Where Clusters do not have direct counterparts, the system should be reorganised so that it is more closely adapted to national structures. The holding of Cluster meetings in the headquarters of Haitian institutions, which has been taking place in recent months, should be continued, and the government should be provided with support to be able to organize these meetings.  Sector-based coordination mechanisms like the Cluster system need to make room for geographically-based coordination at different levels.


It is important to move from vertical to cross-sector, regional and local coordination. This geographically-based coordination supports and empowers sub-national authorities such as municipalities and neighbourhoods as well as making the coordination of humanitarian action easier. The earthquake of 12 January showed once more that the principal actors in the response to a crisis are local people themselves, local institutions and civil society groups. After having been marginalised to a great extent during the initial phases of the response, their role is beginning to be recognised and their capacity is being taken into account. The quality of communication by international agencies and the government vis-à-vis the population was problematic following the earthquake and during the cholera crisis. This is a key area for aid organizations’ image, and therefore for their security. This is particularly true in the current context of unrest. Frustration with international aid, which is perceived to be too slow, could lead to violence. Support to strengthen the government’s capacity in crisis management communication should be increased in the mid term.




Since the conference in New York in March 2010, progress has been relatively slow in setting the reconstruction phase in motion. This has been further held up as actors in the field have had to return to emergency relief because of the cholera crisis. The problems which have taken place during the electoral process have not made the reconstruction process any easier either. Donor coordination is essential, particularly in rapidly evolving contexts.  Large-scale disasters require significant resources both for the emergency phase and the reconstruction phase. These funds should be used flexibly depending on how needs and circumstances in the field evolve. The risk of embezzlement, however, which is inherent to situations where there is weak governance, has meant that procedures have been rather rigid.  It is important to improve the funding of the post emergency phase in order to avoid having to extend the duration of the humanitarian phase and the type of activities covered within it. Thematic budget lines or the Water Facility budget lines which are open to NGOs have long and complex procedures which are not appropriate for post-crisis contexts.  Rather than stretching what remains of emergency budgets or doing too little with budgets which are too small it is necessary to promote the creation of a specific fund with procedures which are adapted to post-emergency phases and the fragile transition to strengthened autonomy.




Beyond emergency relief, the key to reconstruction in Haiti is the reduction of poverty and the strengthening of resilience within the population and public institutions. In order to link relief and development activities, action appears crucial in five distinct areas. First, agricultural production will need to be increased to reduce dependence and recreate rural jobs. Second, it will be essential to increase the provision of healthcare and education, which is accessible to all. Third, Increasing the wealth of rural communities should be considered a priority in terms of risk reduction. Fourth, small provincial towns must on no account be overlooked, because their dynamism and their potential are important to reduce the pressure on Port-au-Prince and absorb surplus labour from rural areas. And finally, improving management and good governance in all urban and rural contexts will be essential to make Haiti less vulnerable.  Note: The report has been financed by and produced at the request of the European Commission. The comments contained herein reflect the opinions of the consultant only.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.