On January 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by an earthquake, killing more than 230,000 people and injuring 300,000. Medical facilities in the disaster-affected region were almost entirely destroyed. Since then, Haiti continues to face difficulties. Following the devastating 2010 earthquake, a powerful hurricane in 2016 compounded serious political instability that continues to disrupt the country today. In 2010, Humanity & Inclusion deployed one of its largest humanitarian aid operations in Haiti which continues to help strengthen the local physical rehabilitation network. At that time, there were only 13 physical therapists in the entire country and most were working abroad at the time.
"Improvised camps sprang up all over the place,” explains Sylvia Sommella, HI's director in Haiti. “Hundreds of survivors slept in hospital car parks. Most health facilities had collapsed.” In 2010, Sylvia arrived in Port-au-Prince a few days after the earthquake. "People were still looking for survivors trapped in the rubble. Many homes had imploded. In some places, the dust stirred up by the collapsed houses was still floating in the air. It was an apocalyptic scene."
Rapid deployment of emergency assistance
Humanity & Inclusion intervened directly after the disaster. Our teams strengthened HI’s logistics platform, already in operation for several years, and a few days after the earthquake, the first few physical therapists and tons of humanitarian equipment were already arriving in the field.
In February, a few weeks after the disaster, HI supplied the first emergency prostheses in makeshift camps. In March, we started working in a rehabilitation center. At the height of the response, more than 600 staff were in the field, supplying vital aid to survivors. Throughout our response, more than 90,000 people received rehabilitation care and more than 1,400 others were fitted with an orthosis or prosthesis. More than 25,000 victims received psychosocial support.
In 2012, HI launched a training program for orthopedic technicians and physical rehabilitation technicians in cooperation with USAID and Don Bosco University in El Salvador. This program, which ran until 2016, trained 86 new experts currently working in Haiti.
HI is now focusing on ongoing training, with the goal of further developing the knowledge of local rehabilitation specialists. “We provide support to students and professionals to do online training,” Marie Dorcasse Laguerre, who is in charge of this project, explains. “After each training module, practical field sessions are organized with a physical therapist who acts as a tutor to improve their technical skills. If there is an earthquake in two to five years, professionals will be available in Haiti to deal with the emergency."
HI also works with professional organizations of physical therapists and orthopedic and rehabilitation technicians, as well as with the National Network for the Inclusion of People with Disabilities (RANIPH). Three hospitals receive support to improve the quality and build the capacity of their rehabilitation services: St Michel de Jacmel Hospital, the Hospital of the State University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince and the Hospital of the Baptist Convention of Haiti in Cap Haïtien.
HI also provides support to vulnerable and isolated communities in the north of the country to help them prepare for and protect themselves in the event of new natural disasters. Our team also helps some 450 people with disabilities access employment or business activities. Our team also helps prevent the number of road accidents by visiting schools to explain road hazards to children. Drivers of public transportation can also take road safety courses.
Background in 2019
The ongoing social and political crisis in Haiti has had a serious impact on local communities, especially people with disabilities, and reduced access to essential items, health care, education, etc. People struggle to find food and 35% of the population (3.67 million people) urgently need food assistance.
In September and October 2019, fuel shortages and insecurity limited the capacity of humanitarian organizations to assist thousands of Haitians. Haitian public services have also considerably reduced their activities. Since November 2019, the situation has stabilized, and humanitarian and development organizations have gradually resumed their work.
People with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable and most likely to be discriminated against, are increasingly impacted by the crisis. Since the unrest began, they are disproportionately exposed to risks, such as physical violence and crime. Barricades, demonstrations etc. restrict movement and access to essential and social services like food, drinking water, and health. Humanity & Inclusion must be able to continue providing support to those most in need.
Frequent natural disasters
Frequent hurricanes and earthquakes increase vulnerability and damage already fragile infrastructure. Cholera epidemics have weakened the population, although no new cases have been reported recently.