UNDP steps up cash-for-work initiatives in post-earthquake Haiti

18 Aug 2010

Port-au-Prince – Jacmel was founded in 1698 as the capital of the south-eastern region of the French colony Saint-Domingue, or present-day Haiti. The town has historically been inhabited by coffee merchants; in modern times it has become a popular tourist destination, with people from all over the world drawn to its early 19th century architecture and vibrant art scene.

The 12 January earthquake destroyed around 70 percent of the town’s architecture, however, with most of the heavier damage centered in the poorest neighbourhoods. Its beaches are covered in garbage and rubble and a longstanding custom of throwing garbage into the Jacmel River has contaminated the groundwater and is affecting the health of Jacmel’s residents.

A UNDP cash-for-work programme in Jacmel, called "For a Clean Jacmel City," is working with the city to eliminate environmentally harmful garbage disposal while at the same time setting up a clean, healthy sanitation system that works. With more than 1,200 people already trained and employed, the Jacmel cash-for-work initiative has jump-started garbage disposal and management while injecting much-needed cash into the local economy.

“I was very impressed by the project and the people working on it,” said Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan, who visited Jacmel earlier this week as part of a six-day mission to Haiti that includes multiple project visits and meetings with the Prime Minister and the mayor of Port-au-Prince. “More than 150,000 kilogrammes of rubbish per week used to go straight to the sea or into the rivers. Jacmel already had a system to collect the waste but no system to treat it. This project is helping with that and we want to help the municipality to find a way to make it sustainable.”

The programme is also providing residents with salaries that they can then use to purchase food for their families and send their children to school, all of which in turn helps the devastated economy.

"The cash-for-work programme has increased our ability to work," said Waste Management Centre Director Jean Edouard Similien.

UNDP is pursuing another cash-for-work programme in Léogâne, a coastal city located 29 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince that sat at the epicenter of the earthquake. Between 80 to 90 percent of its buildings were damaged or destroyed, including all government buildings; an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people were killed.

Léogâne is also vulnerable to flooding during the country’s rainy and hurricane seasons. Thanks to a donation from the Government of Brazil, UNDP is working with Léogâne to launch a project aiming to protect the city and its surrounding areas from flooding, which includes cleaning out drains along the city’s main highway. The Ministry of Environment is dredging rivers and the city government is cleaning and repairing bridges and riverbanks.

“We are supporting the government and the people of Léogâne in initiatives that are really important to them,” said Grynspan as she inspected project sites. “Floods represent a serious menace for the population. Through projects that combine debris and waste removal from the canals, and defense construction along riverbanks, that menace is much reduced.”

“Also, as in all cash-for-work initiatives, the plan contributes to salaries for the people as well as important training,” she added.