Haiti Earthquake Update (4/14/2010)

  • Posted on: 14 April 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

As we get closer to May, the rains will become more frequent and intense.  Even brief rainfall to date gives an indication of how vulnerable the displaced in Port au Prince are to flooding and mud-slides. Some, such as the displaced at the Petionville Golf Club are being relocated to the hastily prepared Corail-Cesselesse site 15 km north of Port au Prince. Six other sites require urgent evacuation before the rainy season.  Other sites can be made safer with engineering interventions.  Disturbingly, hundreds sheltering at the National Stadium were reported to have been forcibly removed.  Close coordination and rapid action are urgently needed to protect the displaced from the upcoming rains. 


Much of the information from the update below comes from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and ReliefWeb.  Reliable estimates concerning the number of people affected by the earthquake are imprecise.  The working assumption is that 1.3 million people were left homeless. OCHA estimates 661,000 of the displaced are staying with host families in the countryside and/or secondary cities.  They too require assistance, but the priority right now is clearly on providing emergency shelter to the displaced in Port au Prince.  Over 81% of the known caseload (1.5 million people) have been provided with shelter materials to date. The objective is for every displaced family will have received 2 tarpaulins by May 1st.


Land ownership in Haiti is a complicated issue that hindered development before the earthquake and now hinders the response to it.  It is often not clear who the legitimate owner of a piece of land is and even whether they are in Hait or not.  Disputes are common.  Locating sites for transitional shelter was very difficult. The government was hesitant to appropriate land for alternate sites but has finally done so.  Removal of rubble is another land related issue.  Clearance of rubble is dangerous and expensive.  Those amongst the displaced who were renters have little incentive to clear the land on their own.  Many land owners cannot afford to do so.  Those who can are afraid that their cleared lots will be seized by squatters.  In the rural areas, land is divided amongst the sons in each family which leads to increasingly smaller and less productive parcels with each generation.  In many locations, prime agricultural land lies untilled (andassociated jobs lost) due to disputed ownership.


As of April 6, Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) engineers assessed nearly 23,000 buildings in Port-au-Prince.  Engineers determined that approximately 46 percent of assessed buildings remain safe for habitation, 31 percent could be made safe with repairs, and 23% required demolition.  Earthquake survivors are an understandably traumatized population and many are still afraid to sleep inside.  


Despite some negative and unfair coverage, the American Red Cross (ARC) continues to play an active role in Haiti in conjunction with the Haitian Red Cross and the many other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies responding under the umbrella of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). A three month progress report of ARC earthquake response activities is available here.


The IFRC is assessing the camps to determine what shelter, health, and other needs the displaced will require as the rainy season intensifies.  The IFRC is also unblocking ditches in the IDP settlements to prevent flooding, clean out full latrines, and ensure an uninterrupted supply of water.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there have been no confirmed oubtreaks of infectious diseases as of yet but there is widespread concern that malaria will increase as even small puddles can become breeding sites for mosquitoes.  More than 939,000 long-lasting insecticide treated nets are currently in the pipeline for distribution  in high malaria transmission areas.  The IFRC is distributing nets to the most vulnerable camps and stockpiling antimalarial medications in clinics and hospitals.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is setting up warehouses in six different points around the country so that it can distribute relief items rapidly during the rainy season.


The World Food Program (WFP) and its partners, which have reached close to 2 million people with food assistance to date, is pre-positioning food and shelter items across all 10 departments.  Many warehouses were lost during the quake.  WFP will install semi-permanent ones throughout the country. High energy biscuits will be stored in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  WFP notes that delivery of food during the rainy season will be compromised if key roads, especially route national one and two, are blocked by flooding and/or landslides.  If needed, WFP will rely on sea routes, through a system of barges, for transportation of staff and cargo.


The U.S. Department of Defense, although much reduced in terms of troop levels, is still playing an important role.  Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTH) has increased the operational capacity of the Port au Prince south pier up to 400 containers per day (prior to the earthquake, it was 233.)  JTH is also cleaning drainage ditches, improving eroded areas around shelters, and erecting walls to block water in the most vulnerable IDP sites.


Between March 14 and 20, MINUSTAH led a Joint Security Assessment (JSA) in seven spontaneous settlements in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne in order to better understand and address gender based violence and the protection of children.  Concerns repeatedly raised by the displaced included rape or other violence, theft in or around settlements, the presence of gang members, emotional trauma, lack of psychological counseling, poor living conditions, concerns about the upcoming rains, lack of support networks, lack of employment, and inadequate food - all of which contributes to anxiety over an uncertain future.  The JSA highlighted that sites with more cohesion, better organization, and adequate policing were much more secure.  The displaced emphasized the importance of a police presence at night. 


If serious about improving the protection of women, women need to be represented in settlement committees, security brigades, and other governing structures.  In the event that there are no womens’ groups and child protection committees, these must be created as soon as possible and be led by Haitians with support of the humanitarian community, not the other way around.  Given the very large increase in the number of the disabled in post earthquake Haiti, their participation in governing structures is also important.  Another important theme in the report is the importance of increasing lighting throughout the camps – and especially near toilets and bathing areas.  USAID has confirmed that it will be placing lighting in the Petionville Club, Ancien Aéroport and a third to be determined site.  Other measures which would promote protection of women and children include providing privacy screens for latrines and bathing facilities and limiting the number of miting the number of entrance and exit points from settlements.  You can find the report here. 


On a related note, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) announced an upcoming deployment to Port au Prince of a Bangladesh police battalion of 100% women.  The police unit will be composed of 130 women police officers and 30 support staff.   They will work in the camps in partnership with the Haitian police.


Schools were officially opened on April 5th.  According to United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) representative Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans, “The demand for education is very high in Haiti…families value education far above any other service and we want to embrace this passion for learning."  This is significant given that the earthquake killed an estimated 38,000 students, 1,300 teachers and other education personnel, and destroyed more than 4,000 schools.  With UNICEF support to the Ministry of Education, 611 schools for 200,000 children will function.  While this is welcome, it is important to remember that an undetermined, but large, number of children in the camps are unable to attend school.  In addition, schools in the countryside and secondary cities are going to be enormously crowded due to children from Port au Prince who left after the quake.


UNICEF has provided rapid orientation to teachers and volunteers to re-start education, with an interim curriculum covering basic life skills, psychosocial support and disaster preparedness.  UNICEF is also working with the government and educationl partners on models for earthquake proof schools. About 80% of students in Haiti attend private schools. UNICEF’s other priorities are the creation of social safety nets to assist marginalized families, the improvement of education quality, school safety, non-formal education, vocational and technical training, and involvement of communities in educational management. 


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is stepping up its activities and is appealing for US$12,500,000 to help people living outside of formal camps in Haiti and those who have fled to the Dominican Republic. To date, UNHCR has been  supporting the established protection and camp management programs, sending emergency team members specializing in protection, logistics, registration and profiling to assist.  Shelter material was rapidly dispatched to support around 100,000 beneficiaries. In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR has been leading the protection response, including through the deployment of an emergency team to work with the Dominican authorities.  In 2010 UNHCR and its partners will aim to implement 85 quick impact projects that will target displaced people.  Twenty five of thse will be in the Dominican Republic. In addition, UNHCR will aim to provide non food items for 60,000 displaced people in the border region and the West, Central and Artibonite areas. UNHCR will also continue to support the return to Haiti of patients discharged from hospitals in the Dominican Republic. In Santo Domingo, support will be given to churches, host families and shelters that are caring for discharged patients and vulnerable Haitians, including unaccompanied children, orphans, women at risk and the disabled.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners distributed seeds and tools to over 9,000 farming families in the earthquake-affected communes of Leogane, Petit Goave, Grand Goave, Gressier, Jacmel, Cayes Jacmel and Marigot.


Organization of American States (OAS) Asst. Secretary General Albert Ramdin led a 6-member mission to Haiti from April 8 to 10. The delegation met with a broad the Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP), national political parties, the private sector and civil society.  President Preval has since pledged to hold elections in 2010.  Legislative elections were originally scheduled for February/March but were postponed for obvious reasons.  Preval is barred from serving two consecutive terms and will step down in February 2011.


While there some large employers in Haiti (Digicel, Royal Caribbean, etc.), most businesses are small.  Some market analysis work has been undertaken with a tool called the Emergency Market Mapping and Assessment (EMMA).  In short, it is a toolkit that allows humanitarian organizations to conduct a quick market assessment and improve the design of their relief programs.  EMMA helps determine how and where it is appropriate to work with markets, even post-emergency.  Below are examples of the types of questions the EMMA helped to answer in Haiti.  Full report available here.



1) To avoid negative effects on the bean market system, what forms should foreign assistance take, and what is the timing for implementation?



1) What is the capacity of the rice market to supply sufficient amounts to meet the needs of the target population in greater Port au Prince?


2) What form of support for access to rice is preferable: cash-based interventions or food-based interventions through local procurement?


3) When should existing food aid be phased out and how?


Construction Labor

1) What are the opportunities for affected populations to gain employment in the construction sector?


Corrugated Iron Sheeting

1) What capacity does the corrugated iron sheeting market system have to supply construction material for the targeted population?


2) What form of support of accessing corrugated iron sheeting is preferable?     


View a more comprehensive presentation/discussion of the EMMA tool here.


Concerning small businesses, I also found information about a USAID supported project called “Haiti Integrated Finance for Value Chains and Enterprises (HIFIVE).”  I have to admit that’s a pretty good acronym.  The objective of the program is to improve the availability of financial services to support the expansion of agriculture and financial products in rural, agricultural areas.”  The project was started in July 2009 before the earthquake but will last at least through July 2012.  USAID partners are the Academy for Educational Development, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and Technoserve.  Part of the program focuses on building the capacity of micro-credit lenders. If you are familiar with the program, please let me know.


Those who have been to the Central Plateau will find this article in the Vancouver Sun interesting.  It concerns the community of Pandiassou outside of Hinche, described as a “Shangri-La" amidst Haiti's barren landscape with lakes and ponds that irrigate food crops, dozens of greenhouses that grow and dry mangos for sale and 15 schools to educate and train the next generation.”  This may be overstating the case a little bit, but it does illustrate the importance of agriculture for the long term development of Haiti’s rural areas.  Good roads are also key to creating new domestic markets for agriculture.  Route National Three from Port au Prince to Mirebalais on the Central Plateau has been paved.  When it is paved all the way to Hinche, the regional capital, it will create many more opportunities for communities such as Pandiassou.


Congress demonstrated leadership in calling for the cancellation of Haiti’s estimated debt of $828 million ($447 million to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), $284 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and $58 million to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), much of which was acquired under dictators that the Haitian people did not vote for.  The bill also calls for aid over the next five years to be provided as grants and not as loans.  The House approved the bill and not it has been sent to President Obama for signature.


And of course you have probably seen that First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit to Haiti, her first overseas trip.  The First Lady's visit affirms that Haiti will remain a high priority for this Administration.  The attention and committment are very much needed.  The rainy season is going to be very hard for the displaced in Port au Prince.  However, the consequences of the rains can be mitigated - but time is short. Thanks for reading




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