Haiti: taking the time to make recovery sustainable

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By Ellie Matthews

When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, the British Red Cross was quickly on the scene helping communities recover. Two years on, we are still there. Why? Because recovering from such a huge disaster takes time. At least, it does if you want to improve people’s lives permanently.

By adapting our approach to the local context, working directly with the affected communities and ensuring that the work we do is sustainable, our programmes can continue improving people’s lives long after we have left. By taking a long-term view, we are helping people in Haiti rebuild their lives in a way which reduces their vulnerability to future disasters.

Rising to unexpected challenges

When responding to a disaster, we need to adapt to new challenges. In Haiti’s South Department, the British Red Cross ran a livelihoods programme from October 2010 to October 2011, giving grants and training to the most vulnerable people. However, shortly after the programme began, a cholera outbreak spread to the region.

One of the only organisations to respond to the outbreak in the south, we quickly began treating people, delivering medical supplies and spreading hygiene information. Many remote communities in the south could only be reached on foot or by donkey. Despite this new challenge, we continued to help people through our livelihoods programme – reaching over 3,000 households.

Luciana Pierre Jean was displaced from Port-au-Prince after losing everything in the disaster. Using cash grants and training from the Red Cross she improved her small commerce business. She says: “The way I run my business now is different. I make more profit and I can use the profit to buy things that I need for my baby and myself. The Red Cross has helped me so much. I am not just surviving now, I feel like I am progressing.”

Our programme in the south has now finished, and we have given thousands of vulnerable families the ability to continue providing for themselves once we’re gone. In addition, by training local government medical staff and Haitian Red Cross staff and volunteers in cholera treatment and hygiene promotion, we have ensured that they can continue working to prevent and cure cholera.

Handing over responsibly

In the Automeca and La Piste camps in Port-au-Prince, the British Red Cross has been running water and sanitation-focused projects since July 2010. As in the South Department, it soon became necessary for us to provide cholera prevention and treatment services too.

Before the earthquake, many people in Port-au-Prince had limited access to the services we now provide in the camps – basic necessities such as clean facilities and water. Before our programmes in the camps finish at the end of this month, we are working with the Haitian government and other agencies to ensure that vital services continue to be provided. This way, improvements to people’s way of life can be sustained until more permanent resettlement is possible.

Another way to make sure that benefits are long-lasting is by working with local communities. In the Delmas 19 area of Port-au-Prince we are working with the community to regenerate their local environment. This includes addressing shelter, livelihoods, health and hygiene issues. By enabling the community to determine the pace of recovery, what’s needed and when, we can help them recover in a sustainable way.

As Luis Sfeir-Younis, programme support officer for recovery, says: “You have to take the time to work with communities, or it is superficial and the impact doesn’t stick. We want to make communities stronger and more resilient”.

The British Red Cross will continue working in the Delmas 19 neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince until at least 2013. Luis says: “We have a strong understanding of the multi-faceted problems this community faces. Using this information we are helping vulnerable people rebuild their lives.”

We’re no longer taking donations for our Haiti recovery work, but you can help us to provide immediate aid when disasters like this strike by donating to our Disaster Fund.