Group of ‘Political Champions’ pledges support to make Haiti disaster resilient

Port-au-Prince, 22 April 2013 - Three years after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, the Political Champions for Disaster Resilience are calling on the international community and the Haitian Government to take action to make Haiti more resilient to disasters.

With the upcoming rainy season only weeks away and the hurricane season approaching, the informal group is stressing the urgency of integrating disaster risk reduction into better coordinated and locally driven initiatives to prepare and recover from disasters. “Haiti is overexposed to natural hazards”, says Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe . “The Government is fully committed to put all necessary efforts to find sustainable solutions. A lot has been accomplished and the Government hopes that the Political Champions initiative will help channel the necessary resources and energies to strengthen national capacities to prevent and manage the impact of disasters”.

Established in 2012 and consisting of high-ranking officials from leading international and national institutions (including CARICOM, UNDP, OCHA, the UK, USAID, the World Bank, and the European Commission), the Political Champions Group for Disaster Resilience aims to leverage their collective political capital for increased attention and resources towards disaster resilience in at-risk countries. “Disasters are a fact of life but their impact should not be,” said UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos. “Helping the Haitian people and their Government build back stronger, safer and more resilient to disasters must be at the heart of our thinking”.

Visiting Haiti for the first time, International Development Secretary Justine Greening said it was vital to disaster-proof assistance so that it lasts and can be effective in the long term.

On Sunday, the group visited Jean Baptiste in Port-au-Prince, one of the precarious neighborhoods of origin of earthquake-displaced families, now undergoing strategic rehabilitation. Here, the Government of Haiti is leading efforts by the international community to relocate displaced residents back into their rehabilitated homes and neighborhoods. “This retaining wall was prioritized by the community when carrying out the community planning exercise. I myself participated in the construction of the gabion, gaining ownership and experience”, said Gay Borgela, standing beside a protective retaining wall built by the project to protect the community. Gay Borgela is a member of the Community Platform, an official group of local representatives set up by the community and trained by the Government-led project to help identify risks and define rehabilitation priorities.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening commented: “If we are to help the Haitian people in the long term it is crucial that we and our partners disaster-proof our assistance so that Haiti, and countries like it, can hold on to the physical, financial and government infrastructure that is so important for real development and growth.”  Mitigation projects such as the wall are an integral component of the ‘16/6 project’, a reference to the 16- neighbourhoods and 6-camps originally targeted. The project focuses on improving living conditions of affected communities by creating jobs, improving basic services and rehabilitating affected neighborhoods to better enable them to withstand disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and heavy rains. “Responsibility for disaster risk management does not lie with disaster managers alone. It is rather a concern for everyone - from citizens to political leaders, to the private sector and civil society. . Whole-of-society approaches to disaster risk reduction will become increasingly important as climate change alters hazard patterns”, insisted Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator.

As a practical gender-based violence prevention measure, solar lightings systems have also been installed in consultations with women and girls of the communities. “These solar lamps have a huge impact in our communities. We have decided to place them here to make the neighbourhoods safer for us and to allow our kids to have a place to study and gather after the sunset”, insisted Thermelus Guerline, member of the Community Platform.

The visit to Jean Baptiste was one aspect of the two-day visit to Haiti by the group, meant to highlight the positive steps that Haiti has taken over the last three years while calling for more action to engrain resilience into development investments.

Recognized as one of the countries most affected by disasters in the world, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010, which killed over 220,000. Poor planning, population density, environmental degradation and poverty are all factors which expose the population to disaster risk. Haiti has been repeatedly battered by earthquakes, cyclones, floods, drought and epidemics. An estimated 1.5 million people still require life-saving humanitarian assistance as a result of these multiple shocks; while thousands of families may lose their livelihoods every year during the hurricane season.

Haiti will continue to require continuous and cyclic humanitarian assistance unless the root causes of fragility are addressed. In light of these threats, the Political Champions selected Haiti as a priority country to advocate for increased resilience to prepare for and recover from disasters.

On Monday, following round table discussions with the Government, donors and civil society, the Political Champions advocated for the Government to build resilience into national development plans and programmes as a crosscutting issue. The Champions further emphasized the need for the international community, donors and agencies on the ground, to be more effective at coordinating and integrating resilience.

The delegation comprises: Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator; Ms. Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for International Development; Ms. Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, OCHA; Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary-General of CARICOM; Ms. Elizabeth Hogan, Deputy Assistant Administrator from the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau for USAID; Ms. Rachel Kyte, Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank; and Mr. Jean Louis de Brouwer, Director of Operations of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

For more information, please contact:

In Haiti:

Chirine El-Labbane, UNDP, Tel.:+509 3600 7455, chirine.el-labbane@undp.org

George Ngwa, OCHA, Tel.: +509 3702 5192, ngwaanuongong@un.org

In New York:

Vincenzo Pugliese, UNDP, Tel.: +1 212 906 5296, vincenzo.pugliese@undp.org

Devi Palanivelu, OCHA, Tel: + 212 963 4150, palanivelu@un.org

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.