COMMENT: What Haiti Really Needs


The people of Haiti will need sustained and prolonged support to help build businesses, develop the economy and create a more resilient society.

One of the most devastating Caribbean hurricanes of the last 10 years, Hurricane Matthew ploughed through southern Haiti, destroying almost everything in its wake. Here, two experts discuss what needs to happen now.

More than 350,000 are estimated to require immediate assistance; 15,000 families are living in temporary accommodation; and around 80 percent of the region’s crops are estimated to have been lost. Witness reports estimate that around 80 percent of the buildings have been destroyed in Jérémie, a city of 300,000 in southern Haiti, which was cut off from the rest of the country for around three days.

Hunger is a huge worry, with many aid agencies, the government and the United Nations unable to get supplies through to those who need it most, such has been the level of devastation.

Furthermore, there are huge fears that the hurricane could mean a severe cholera outbreak. Since the 2010 earthquake, the country has been fighting the disease, which has killed more than 9,000 people and infected hundreds of thousands. There are concerns that the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew will significantly worsen the situation and lead to a larger outbreak. Marc Vincent of UNICEF says: “Overflowing rivers, stagnant waters, and animal and human corpses are perfect breeding grounds for waterborne diseases. Every day that goes by increases the threat of cholera. We are in a race against time to get to these children before diseases do.”

Two experts discuss the best next steps for the people of Haiti.

The philanthropy approach — Peter Cafferkey, CEO, Boncerto
In the first instance, it’s clear that the region requires immediate and significant assistance. People can donate to the following established humanitarian aid organisations, which are all working to relieve the situation on the ground and provide emergency help: UNICEF, the Red Cross, Oxfam, Plan International, and Save the Children.

However, the fact that other countries in the Caribbean and Florida seem to have emerged relatively unscathed from Hurricane Matthew proves that economically stronger societies fare better when faced with disaster. It’s clear that Haiti’s fragile economic situation and recent post-earthquake history has left it in a more precarious position than many, if not all, of its neighbours.

Once the winds have died down and immediate assistance has been offered, the people of Haiti will need continued, sustained and prolonged support to help build businesses, develop the economy and create a more resilient society that is better placed to deal with future emergencies.

To this end, recent efforts of the Clinton Foundation in Haiti must surely be applauded. It has supported coffee growers to increase their size and scale through co-operatives, created thousands of diverse industrial jobs at the Caracol Industrial Park, invested in sustainable agricultural and fish-farming projects, as well as clean energy projects and even in building up tourism through hotel investment.

It’s only this kind of long-term economic investment that will ensure Haiti is able to withstand a future hurricane, earthquake or other disaster.

Peter Cafferkey is chief executive of UK-based philanthropy consultant Boncerto.

Harnessing Local Heroes — Chris Coxon, chief of staff, ActionAid USA
Once the bodies are buried and the flood waters withdraw, Haiti is facing a huge rebuilding operation, not dissimilar to the 2010 earthquake. And while international support is again slowly arriving in Haiti, it’s vital that the same mistakes aren’t repeated, when billions of dollars of aid were squandered.

The 2010 rebuild operation was called Build Back Better, but the reality was very different for many Haitians. They saw their opinions and rights ignored, as people from around the world rushed in to tell them how they should rebuild their country.

An example of this was the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which represents nothing more than an expensive failure. More than US$170 million of US government emergency aid money went towards financing the park in an area of Haiti unaffected by the earthquake. Representatives from the Haitian government arrived at the park site with trucks and bulldozers in January 2011, giving the local farmers who owned, rented and farmed the land a matter of hours before their homes and crops were destroyed.

Governments, philanthropists, companies and individual donors at all levels have a lot of different organisations to choose from when deciding where to send money to support Haiti. As they look at how they can support the post-Hurricane Matthew rebuild, it’s vital that the same mistakes are not repeated. The recovery must be Haitian-led, with communities properly consulted before projects proceed.

To make sure their money goes to an organisation that can reach those people in greatest need, they should be asking questions such as is the organisation connected to local people? Do their staff speak Creole rather than French? And do they have the right relationships in place to be able to do the work?

Some billionaire philanthropists are already embracing this new approach of putting local people first, and they’re starting to see the results. Local people understand their context better than we ever can, and they’re determined and committed, and motivated to change the world around them. That’s why organisations such as ActionAid are investing in local problem solvers — powerful people who live in communities such as those hardest hit in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew, who are mobilising others to use the resources we supply, and will continue to do so.

By actively investing in local people and the solutions they develop, we can bring about long-term and sustainable change in Haiti, making sure communities are better prepared to face such disasters in the future.

Chris Coxon is chief of staff, ActionAid USA.

Recommended For You

Related Articles