“Are you okay? What are you doing for Haiti?”
10 Oct 2016 by Rita Sciarra, Head of Poverty Reduction Unit, UNDP Haiti
The sun is shining today in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti. Looking at such a blue sky, I wonder at the force of nature that, in less than 36 hours, it can come and destroy everything. It was impossible to imagine in the quiet of the night before Matthew’s arrival or in the colour of the sky today that it could have had such devastating consequences.
My thoughts are racing between the latest data from my colleagues in the Emergency Civil Protection Centre and the need to urgently intervene and help the people of the Nippes, South and Grande Anse regions.
I am thinking about my recent training on emergency situations, my past experiences, in theory and practice. Together with the directors of the office and other colleagues, we try to come up with, in a few words, our strategy for working on Haiti’s recovery in order build a bridge to development right from the first emergency interventions.
In Jeremie, 90 percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed. The roofs have blown away together with most of the trees, and now everything is scattered on the ground throughout the streets of the city. We see bodies of dead animals, remains of latrines and graveyards that have been destroyed.
For this bridge to development to be effective, we must support the people so that they will have jobs cleaning the streets so that help can reach those areas where access is blocked in order to prevent further deaths and the spread of disease due to unsanitary conditions. And we have to act fast.
At the same time, we are beginning to see how we can help local and central government institutions, municipalities and ministries, as well as communities so that the next time something happens, they will be better prepared, stronger and ultimately "resilient".
An important part of our analysis is to see whether our efforts to date have worked in terms of prevention. For instance, the mayor of Dame-Marie in the South region has the multi-risk map that we created together with him and the entire community. Thanks to this map, in a very short time, he was able to decide where to resettle people who had been evacuated before the hurricane.
The Mayor was fully empowered, the community evacuated to safety, and we were moved to see such tangible results. It’s not only about saving lives after the disaster; these measures had begun saving lives long before Matthew hit.
I finish my coffee and answer the phone. The numbers spin in my head, and I’m thinking that this bridge is more important than ever. In some areas, 90 percent of the trees fell, 80 percent of the orchards no longer exist. Within a couple of months, thousands of families will not have work or food if we do not start acting now on recovery, by combining emergency relief and longer-term development.
There are practically no trees left in Jeremie and Les Cayes. Should another hurricane come, the impact will be even stronger because these cities will have no protection.
To all the friends who write and ask me, Rita, what are you doing? This is what I would like to explain to my mother, with whom I haven’t had any time to talk. This is what we at UNDP are doing when there is a disaster. We support people to get back on their feet, so that the return to normal daily activities will be faster and under better conditions.
I would like to tell her that we are working on this bridge between emergency and development. We stand beside the people affected from the first minute of the emergency and until the rebuilding gives way to development.
The phone rings again. "Are you okay? What are you doing for Haiti?"
"I don’t have time. I'll call you later, mom."