Disaster preparation activities help avert crisis in Haiti

12 Nov 2010

Families in Gonaives benefited
from the construction of 110 metres
of riverbank. (Photo: UNDP)
Haiti
- On 5 November hurricane Tomas swept past with torrential rains and winds of up to 130 km/hr. In what could have resulted in another fatal scenario, turned out as a test affirming the positive role disaster preparation activities, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNPD) in partnership with the Government and humanitarian community play in helping avert a potential crisis.

UNDP projects, which have employed people throughout Haiti to construct and reinforce riverbanks so as to prevent flooding and mudslides, proved to be extremely effective in controlling the torrents of water brought by the storm.

In Les Cayes, approximately 3000 families benefited from the construction of 160 metres of riverbank by members in the community as part of one such initiative.

“Without the construction, la Creole would be completely flooded by now,” wrote the members of a neighborhood association in a letter addressed to UNDP.

Post-hurricane assessment showed that areas where projects to reinforce riverbanks had been implemented suffered no major damage from the storm.

Additionally, the more than 300 Haitian journalists who recently participated in a UNDP sponsored program on how to react and report more efficiently during a natural disaster, helped ensure that people around the country stayed informed about the emerging risks.

Haiti’s Department of Civil Protection (DPC) also played a key part in alerting the population, assessing needs and mobilizing necessary equipment. UNDP has worked with the government agency throughout the year as it developed contingency plans for each of the geographic departments, which included early alert systems.

While Tomas was still a threat, the DPC immediately set up regional emergency centres responsible for monitoring the situation and providing aid and assistance where necessary. The DPC also held regular press conferences informing about the coming threats..

“The passage of Tomas served to show that the combination of capacity building at national level and small-scale mitigation projects at local level can help avert disasters,” said Eric Overvest UNDP country director.  “Such activities help to ensure that development gains achieved over the years and the ongoing rehabilitation efforts are not lost through natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding.”

UNDP will continue to work with Haiti’s Government and non-governmental organizations to create new initiatives that will reduce the risks of future catastrophe while empowering citizens through opportunities for employment.