Haiti's rebuilding continues, one year after Hurricane Sandy

flooding in Haiti
Flooding after Hurricane Sandy in Haiti. (Photo: UNDP Haiti)

"I could hear the wind howling in the street and debris flying away,” says Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, speaking of the terrifying night one year ago when Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti, killing 60 people and affected 1.8 million.

Highlights

  • 60 people killed by Sandy, more than 1.8 million affected in Haiti
  • 2,500 young people taught about disaster risk
  • Hundreds trained in first aid and disaster risk reduction in urban settings
  • 9,500 teachers and students educated about earthquakes and tsunamis

Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, who is director of the National Civil Protection Agency, a branch of the Haitian government responsible for providing disaster protection, saw the homes of many in her community wiped out on the night of Sandy.

"So many houses were damaged and hundreds of people had been left homeless. And this came only two years after the devastating earthquake that leveled parts of Port-au-Prince.”

When Hurricane Sandy rumbled across the Caribbean in October, countries braced for impact. But of all the countries in the region, it was Haiti, still reeling from the 2010 earthquake, where fears of a terrible catastrophe were greatest. With 170,000 displaced people still living in camps following the 2010 quake, outbreaks of cholera and many still without permanent housing, there were well founded fears that the country was ill-prepared for a stronger-than-usual hurricane. Many expected the worst.

“While Sandy had an important impact on Haiti the truth is that things could have been much worse. It is widely accepted that measures taken before Sandy arrived helped to mitigate the severity of the storm, saving lives and limiting damage,” says Fenella Frost, UNDP’s Disaster Risk Reduction Unit Chief in Port-au-Prince. “Huge efforts have been made, led by the government of Haiti, to continue to strengthen the national system for disaster management.

Integrating disaster risk reduction measures into the earthquake recovery and, on the larger scale, into national development, helped Haiti, which faces very high risk from disasters. The government deserves praise for employing a forward-looking approach since the earthquake, acknowledging the potential for future disasters and taking meaningful steps to reduce the risk.”

In Haiti, UNDP supported quake recovery initiatives including a large temporary employment scheme, with more than 300,000 people, nearly half of them women, engaged in community rehabilitation. These short-term jobs have the dual advantage of both providing livelihoods and economic assistance to those in need, while mobilizing community recovery projects. In Haiti, employment projects included the removal of hazardous debris, which was then recycled into useful products, like roads; draining gutters and rivers prone to floods; and planting mangroves to protect against wind and sea surge.

"Preparing for disasters is fundamental to saving lives and investments,” adds Frost, “you cannot stop the annual hurricane season from coming, but with the certainty that it is coming you can take precautions.”

“But for all of the efforts undertaken, Haiti still suffered under Sandy,” she says, pointing out that efforts to mitigate and prepare, while helping to soften the impact, were nonetheless not enough.

In light of this, UNDP and partners continue to work with the Haitian government to strengthen its systems for managing disaster risk. In the southern end of the country a vast reforestation programme has been launched. Trees and forests are known to be a natural defense against high winds, sea surges, landslides and flooding.

“We have learned so much from Sandy. We are fully committed to continue strengthening the coordination between the different actors. We also need more resources to better reach communities through our awareness campaigns so they can be stronger, better prepared, when the next storms come,” added Baptiste.