Long-term reconstruction and development in Haiti must be locally led if it is to have any chance of success, the Catholic agency Progressio says, two weeks after a devastating earthquake rocked the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.
As international agencies begin to move from search and rescue to meeting essential needs such as food, water and shelter, Progressio and its staff on the ground in Haiti say that local people have already shown considerable leadership in the relief effort and must now be supported to lead their own longer-term recovery.
Despite huge challenges of coordination and security, significant efforts have been made by local organisations to ensure aid reaches deep into the Haitian community, says José Emperador, a Progressio development worker who has spent the past week working as part of the ‘Ayuda a Haiti’ (Help Haiti) coalition of which Progressio is a part.
He explained: “The serious problems facing [aid agencies] in terms of distributing aid are twofold: security and logistics. These are slowly being resolved thanks to the incredible help and collaboration from Haitians – the locals who live here.
“It will always be the Haitians who will be the most effective. There is no-one who knows the terrain like the Haitians, there is no-one who speaks Creole like the Haitians themselves. The aid is here, but we can’t do anything without their help. The images you are seeing of foreign staff, rescue workers in blue helmets, American marines jumping out of helicopters – this is not the whole story."
Emperador continued: “It’s not a graphic image, but in many neighbourhoods Haitians are organising things for themselves, carrying out the most basic tasks of organisation and distribution. It’s the people themselves who are doing this.”
Lizzette Robleto, Progressio’s Advocacy Coordinator for Latin America added: “It has been humbling to see the huge efforts made by local people and their Dominican neighbours in the aftermath of this colossal disaster. It is their country, and they should be placed at the centre of the task of rebuilding this impoverished nation – and making it stronger.”
International relief efforts continue across Haiti, too. Tim Aldred, Progressio’s Advocacy Manager, said: “The assistance provided by the international community has already saved thousands of lives – directly and indirectly. Without it, Haiti would not have had access to the resources and equipment it so desperately needed. It is encouraging to see the daily convoy of relief supplies arriving in Port-au-Prince. These are vital to help meet people’s most basic needs".
He continued: “With infrastructure so badly damaged, the support of the international community in the reconstruction effort will also be essential. What we need to see now is a strong partnership. Haitians must be at the centre of their own recovery and the international community must support them through it.”
Progressio, like many other locally-based agencies, has been moved to assist the Haitian people following requests from its partner organisations on the ground. So far, thousands of survivors have been helped by the Progressio-backed ‘Help Haiti’ coalition, although many still need urgent assistance.
Since the quake struck, Progressio staff and development workers have been operating day and night alongside the ‘Help Haiti’ team to distribute medical supplies on the ground in the Haitian capital and in the nearby towns of Jacmel and Leogane; coordinate the purchase and delivery of food and water to survivors and ensure access to urgent medical treatment for hundreds of people. A second round of medical care is now underway, with doctors attending to the many injured.
The ‘Help Haiti’ coalition, which is based in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, is made up of over 110 local and international organisations who have come together to assist the people of Haiti following the 12 January 2010 earthquake. It includes Progressio, Centro Bono and the Jesuit Refugee Service, among others.