Haitian communities must be nurtured now and supported long into the future if the country is to secure a new reality for its people and build resilience to natural and man-made shocks, says the international development agency Progressio, one month after a devastating earthquake rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation killing more than 200,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands injured.
In the weeks following the quake, Haitian community groups have led efforts in response to the disaster, often working in partnership with civil society from across the country and the region, including the neighbouring Dominican Republic. International aid agencies are also playing a vital role as part of one of the largest disaster relief efforts ever seen, providing essential resources and equipment to help meet people’s most basic needs in the wake of the disaster.
In Port-au-Prince, Progressio development workers operating as part of the Dominican based ‘Help Haiti’ coalition, report that large quantities of aid have been mobilised and channelled to the communities and individuals most in need, often under the direction of local Haitian neighbourhood groups, Haitian churches and ad-hoc Haitian leaders of improvised camps for the displaced. Countless lives have been saved as a result - and scores left homeless by the tremor have received shelter, food, water and medical treatment.
José Emperador, a development worker who took part in the immediate relief effort in the Haitian capital, said: “The people who were always traditionally excluded from public life – members of local Haitian communities – have made it clear that the future reconstruction of the country will happen through their efforts, or it won’t happen at all. From these grassroots groups, new social and political leaders will emerge, as will new neighbourhoods for those who have been left homeless – and, we hope, a new and more effective state which is closer to the people themselves.”
In recent weeks, local communities have begun to form networks and alliances to enable analysis and the exchange of experiences and ideas. A number of locally-conceived projects and proposals which link emergency relief with longer term development have already been set in motion – often with a steely determination to avoid the mistakes of the past. “The word you hear most often during these meetings is ‘inclusive’,” José Emperador says. “Projects must be run by the people, for the people.”
Lizzette Robleto, Progressio’s Advocacy Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean said: “The extraordinary efforts made by Haitian civil society in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake are encouraging in a country which has long been failed by its fragile, traditional leadership. These grassroots initiatives are the core of a strong civil society – and will need all the support they can get today and in the years to come. In this way, Haiti will be able to 'build back better' and prepare itself for the natural, political and economic challenges which undoubtedly lie ahead.”
In the last month, the ‘Help Haiti’ coalition of which Progressio is part, has distributed emergency supplies to some 52,500 people and provided medical attention to over 900 individuals. Relief efforts continue across the country, with Progressio staff working alongside local partner organisations in Port-au-Prince, the devastated city of Leogane and the Dominican border town of Jimaní.
Following years of tension between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the recent earthquake has ushered in a positive new era of Dominican-Haitian relations. Says Lizzette Robleto: “This is a very encouraging sign and demonstrates that constructive cooperation between the two neighbouring countries is possible. This bodes well for future relations – and the long-term development of both sides of the island of Hispaniola.”
Progressio continues to raise funds for the Help Haiti coalition. To donate, click here: http://bit.ly/aIEvn8