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Early recovery in Haiti: Localize the relief effort to avoid the aid dependency trap

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A crisis response led by the Haitian people and government lowers the risk of vulnerable people becoming dependent on international assistance. Photo: Andrea Ruffini/UNDP Haiti

Exactly one month ago, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc in Haiti. More than 1.4 million people still need assistance; more than 175,000 people have been displaced and in some areas crops were completely wiped out. The disaster has left people living in makeshift shelters, unable to provide for their families and dependent on assistance.

After the first few initial critical weeks of the disaster, two lessons stand out: the need to localize crisis response and the importance of initiating recovery from the outset, alongside the immediate response to the pressing humanitarian needs.

I supported UNDP’s immediate response after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and I can see that the Government has built on lessons learned this time around. National authorities have insisted that this should be a Haitian-led response, from the local to the national level, and the provisional President Jocelerme Privert made clear from the start that early recovery was a priority.

As Mr Privert recently told The New York Times, “At some point, the aid will stop and when it does, if we have done nothing to build back their old lives, to rebuild their capacity, there will be starvation.” Government officials I spoke to want to avoid vulnerable people becoming dependent on humanitarian assistance and prepare the country to better cope with future shocks.

Four days after the hurricane, the Government asked for a post-disaster needs assessment to be conducted with the support of the UN, World Bank, European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank. This process will soon be completed, from which a recovery and reconstruction framework will be developed.

As part of the nationally-led coordination architecture for the response, the Government also established an early recovery sector from the outset, with UNDP support, to prioritize and coordinate initial recovery approaches and interventions with national and international partners.

These efforts should be supported and the international effort should rally behind them. National and local capacity and systems should be strengthened in the process, and it is our job to provide advice, additional expertise and other resources as requested by the Government and local authorities.

Government structures were there before our response experts rushed in after Hurricane Matthew and they will remain long after these staff fly out again. Reinforcing and supporting the Government on the ground helps to ensure we build back smarter in Haiti, in a way that is sustainable in the long-term.  

Haiti was already one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Even before the disaster, 1 million Haitians were acutely food insecure and almost half of the population were without jobs. Haiti has been slowly moving toward long-term, sustainable development since the 2010 earthquake. The impact of the hurricane has put these gains severely at risk, and it’s still unclear what the full impact of the hurricane will be on the most vulnerable communities.

It is absolutely critical to prevent any further loss of development gains, which were already so few and so hard won in recent years. This means supporting the locally-led response and rapidly transitioning to early recovery to return to the path of sustainable development as quickly as possible.

Haiti could become a compelling example of how humanitarian and development partners can unite behind common goals of strengthening resilience to future disasters and reducing dependence on aid. We should ensure that our joint efforts after this latest disaster help Haitians to secure a more sustainable and resilient future.

Bruno Lemarquis Blog post Disaster risk management Disaster risk reduction Preparedness Resilient recovery Risk assessment Risk governance Crisis response Sustainable development Environment Latin America & the Caribbean Haiti