Haiti communities struggle to get aid after earthquake

Haiti communities struggle to get aid after earthquake
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Two weeks after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the southern coast of Haiti, some communities are just starting to receive aid, with medical care and other resources struggling to make it to some isolated areas that have been cut off further by damaged roads and landslides.

In a nation that had not fully recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake, and where many are hesitant to receive foreign aid following mismanaged development projects over the past decade, populations are relying on locally-based networks and organizations to meet basic needs.

On the morning of Aug. 14, thousands of Haitians awoke to the rumbles of a quake that struck the country’s southern Tiburon Peninsula, with tremors felt dozens of miles away in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

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At least 2,189 people died in the quake, with more than 12,000 injured and dozens missing, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency.

Additionally, nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed, and more than 77,000 houses were damaged in the most-affected Haitian departments, or provinces, of Sud, Grand‘Anse and Nippes, according to the government office.

Days after the disaster, rescue efforts were complicated as rains from then-Tropical Storm Grace fell over the area, upgrading from a tropical depression as it traveled just west of the city of Les Cayes, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake.

Project Hope, an international health care organization with emergency responders on the ground in Haiti, said in a Wednesday situation report that an estimated 650,000 people were still in need of humanitarian assistance in the three impacted departments, with more than 119,000 people in the region lacking access to drinkable water.

Severe damage to buildings and roads in the area due to the earthquake and subsequent landslides have also limited efforts to reach populations in need, with Project Hope noting that 32 health facilities were damaged or destroyed during the quake.

Doctors Without Borders told The Hill that it was coordinating several medical response efforts throughout the country, including by opening an emergency center in Port-au-Prince to help patients who were evacuated from the southern portion of the country.

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The international group also has medical personnel stationed in the Grand'Anse and Sud departments, including at a hospital in the town of Port-à-Piment, where existing patients at an area hospital damaged during the earthquake had to be relocated to tents.

The organization explained that even with all these efforts, substantial obstacles still remain, noting that “many hospitals had to evacuate their patients, and the facilities that continue to function are overwhelmed and experiencing a lack of medical equipment and medicines.” 

With groups like Doctors Without Borders and other aid organizations located miles away from some of the hardest hit areas, communities are relying on organizations that already have strong ties in difficult-to-reach regions.

At Hope for Haiti, a leading Florida-based development organization with offices in the south of Haiti, many of its staff are local civilians who have been working to address the needs of communities, even as they themselves have been impacted both physically and emotionally by the earthquake. 

Skyler Badenoch, the organization’s CEO, has been traveling with other staff members across the south, working with local leaders to address the immediate needs of Haitians, including by providing access to food, water, shelter and healthcare.

“What I'm seeing in the highly impacted areas is destruction of livelihood,” he told The Hill. “And by that I mean that people's homes are, they're either damaged or they're completely destroyed, and people are living in tents and tarps.”

Badenoch, however, said that support will still be needed long after these immediate needs are met, saying that his organization is planning to “go into helping people and families restore livelihoods, helping rebuild their homes and work side by side community leaders to gain any access to clean water, helping the Ministry of Education there,” among other actions.

“Those are the types of things that are going to really define our recovery efforts,” he added.

Groups like Hope for Haiti with strong ties to communities are also more likely to be trusted among civilians, especially after the fallout over international aid campaigns for Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

More than a decade ago, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people, with many of those impacted concentrated in Port-au-Prince.

While The New York Times estimated that roughly $13 billion in foreign aid went to Haiti after the earthquake to help build up the Caribbean nation’s infrastructure and government, local institutions have largely failed to install improvements to the economy and the livelihoods of Haitians. 

A wave of criticism was levied especially against the American Red Cross, which collected nearly $500 million in its Haitian relief campaign following the 2010 disaster.

An NPR-ProPublica report published in 2015 found that while the Red Cross had claimed it provided homes to 130,000 people, the organization only constructed six permanent homes.

In a statement to NBC News this month, the Red Cross said it “strongly disputes” allegations that it mismanaged funds for Haiti, and noted that it is not currently accepting financial donations for the country, which is considered the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

When contacted by The Hill, the Red Cross said it was not offering interviews, but noted that it was providing support to the Haitian Red Cross, the global Red Cross and the Red Crescent network to reach victims in need following this month’s earthquake.

Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, told The Hill that Haiti has been plagued by “decades of failed, international intervention,” due to groups not understanding what type of aid is wanted by the Haitian people.

“The criticism for humanitarian assistance in Haiti has been that the international organizations do not listen to what Haitians want,” explained Deloffre, who also serves as the director of the Humanitarian Action Initiative at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

“They're always spending money on things Haitians don't need, and that is why you get the results that you do, which is not a lot of improvement in their livelihoods,” she added. 

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The professor explained that one possible reform international aid organizations could implement is bringing Haitian leaders and civilians into conversations on aid and development projects, following the lead of locally-based groups.

“In the past, Haitians have not been at the table when there have been coordination meetings,” she said, explaining that there can often be language barriers with discussions that “are often held in English, and Haitians speak Creole.” 

“Even when the dominant language is French... they can still be excluded from those spaces, they're not invited to those spaces,” Deloffre said. “So, one of the pleas that I'm seeing in a lot of news articles from Haitians is, 'We need to be at the table, we need to to be at these coordination meetings, we need people to access them both physically and also in terms of our language so that we can be heard.'” 

Badenoch echoed these sentiments, noting that Haitians feel empowered when they have a voice and are able to play an active role in their own futures and development of their communities.  

“They are responding in so many heroic ways, and I've been reflecting on that and thinking, ‘Why is it that our team of 60 Haitian professionals steps up like this, even when the impact is in their own community?’” he said. “And I think it's because service heals.” 

“It's because when we serve others, it's healing, it's therapeutic,” Badenoch explained. “You feel like you're part of something bigger themselves.”