ACT News Update Haiti 05/04: A year of hardship for Haiti

News and Press Release
Originally published
Geneva, November 17, 2004 - For Haiti, 2004 has been a year of one crisis after another - a series of natural disasters and episodes of civil unrest. These rolling crises exacerbate one another and have created a cycle of chaos and disruption to life in this Caribbean island nation. Lutheran World Federation - Haiti (LWF), one of the members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International working in Haiti, has been intervening in the various emergencies this year and assisting some of the most vulnerable people.
LWF reports that in the last several weeks, tension in the underlying political environment has been building up again. Following September 30, which marked the 13th anniversary of the 1991 coup, armed militias loyal to exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide called for his return to Haiti and became violent. This violence has affected the whole country, particularly the capital of Port au Prince. LWF says that heavily armed militias have been terrorizing the population, resulting in many injuries to both police and civilians.

The ongoing violence has affected the daily lives of the population, causing owners of businesses, markets and street vendors to suspend selling and close. Schools are also closed for security reasons. Because of the unpredictable nature of events in Haiti, mostly as a result of civil unrest, LWF has had to adjust its activities in response to the emergencies.

This year's political unrest first erupted in February, resulting in the exile of Aristide. LWF began to respond to humanitarian needs in the aftermath of the political upheaval by providing health, legal, food and other assistance through ACT Appeal LAHT41 (Relief to Victims of Civil Unrest). LWF reports that the distribution of medicine through its local partners was successful as was the distribution of seeds and tools on the island of La Gonave.

However, as the emergency situation evolved quickly and the ongoing fragmentation of the Haitian society often hampers progress on these types of activities, LWF reports that it prioritized and reformulated its activities toward "pacifist (non-violent) conflict-resolution activities."

LWF's six-month pilot project in five areas - Gonaives, St. Marc, Ouanaminthe, Thiotte and Jeremie - is based on a strategy of "open forums" and aims to promote dialogue and group activities. The project is helping to prepare residents of these areas for free and fair elections in 2005. Activities have already started in Gonaives in northern Haiti with the creation of 14 neighborhood committees that will distribute non-food items to residents and carry out sanitation activities. Similar activities in the South East province were set to begin on November 8.

The floods and landslides that hit Haiti a few months later in May prompted an LWF response through ACT Appeal LAHT42 (Assistance to Flood Victims). Following the distribution of emergency food and non-food items to the most-affected residents in the area of Thiotte, LWF prioritized and shifted its rehabilitation activities to focus on cash-for-work activities that include bringing clean water to people from a spring by laying 15 km of pipe, protecting the spring through the promotion of grassland and cattle areas and reforestation, and rehabilitating access roads.

The latest crisis struck in September with more flooding in northern Haiti, especially the city of Gonaives. LWF is still responding with emergency assistance through ACT Appeal LAHT 43 (Assistance to Flood Victims in Gonaives). It reports that residents there are still in great need of food and clean water. It has delivered 1,000 food buckets through 20 churches, with 4,200 buckets waiting to be delivered. LWF reports that the security situation in Gonaives has deteriorated considerably with gangs controlling access to the main warehouse where the buckets are stored.

Two water purification units donated by ACT member Norwegian Church Aid will also be installed soon. LWF's response includes the rehabilitation of 20 schools and support with food to 4,000 pupils including orphans for three months.