Update on Haiti Relief Efforts Two Months after Quake

An interview with Pierre Tripon, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Haiti
ACF-Haiti, courtesy: L. Grosjean

Pierre Tripon reports on the current humanitarian needs in Haiti, Action Against Hunger’s emergency programs, and the country’s prospects for the future.

Two months after the earthquake, what are Action Against Hunger’s priorities?

The lack of shelter remains an enormous problem, especially given that the rainy season is approaching in about two weeks and the hurricane season begins in June. One million people are homeless on the island, and only 20% currently have access to some form of shelter. Sanitary conditions will likely deteriorate in the coming weeks because the rains will bring mudslides and floating debris. We’re in a race against time to address these sanitation needs and prevent outbreaks of disease. In Port-au-Prince, our teams have already installed more than 600 latrines and hand-washing stations, and we’re working to promote good hygiene practices in displacement camps throughout the city.

"We’re concerned about the nutritional needs of children under five, as they are the most fragile and can easily succumb to diseases."

Where are we in terms of food?

Today, food requirements are basically covered. Our organization alone has distributed food to nearly 75,000 people. We’ve targeted families with young children, who are the most vulnerable to malnutrition.

What about water needs?

During emergencies, access to clean water can mean the difference between life and death. Action Against Hunger rushed to bring drinking water to thousands of survivors in the aftermath of the quake. We’ve installed water points throughout the city and currently provide more than 75,000 people with enough water to satisfy their daily needs. Emergency water needs are largely taken care of in Port-au-Prince, but rebuilding water infrastructure will take quite some time.

Infants need special care during emergencies. Aside from food and water distributions, what kinds of special services is Action Against Hunger providing them?

We’re concerned about the nutritional needs of children under five, as they are the most fragile and can easily succumb to diseases. Because of the myth that breast milk is bad for children in times of crisis, some mothers prefer to give their children powdered milk. This can be dangerous because powdered milk is easily contaminated, especially in an emergency environment like post-quake Haiti. Action Against Hunger has set up a dozen special tents for nursing mothers and their infants to provide a safe space for breastfeeding. We’re also using these spaces to help mothers and infants begin to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced. We’re holding group counseling sessions so that these mothers can begin to verbalize some of their fears.

Haiti’s economy was absolutely devastated by the earthquake. What kinds of recovery programs are being implemented?

Action Against Hunger has developed a “cash-for-work” program to employ people who have lost everything. The idea is that they’ll receive cash to perform work that will benefit their communities, like clearing the streets of refuse. This helps provide a source of income for families and boosts the local economy. Some 10,000 families will benefit from this program. We’re targeting the individuals with vulnerable families like single parents or those caring for disabled children.

"Elderly heads of household or people with disabilities may struggle to find employment, so we’ll be helping them out while they get back on their feet."

What about people who are unable to work?

We’re going to provide financial assistance to families in distress. Elderly heads of household or people with disabilities may struggle to find employment, so we’ll be helping them out while they get back on their feet.

What are some of the difficulties our teams encounter?

For starters, a lot of people were severely traumatized as a result of the earthquake and are understandably worried about recurring earthquakes. There are overwhelming psycho-social needs among the population that need to be addressed. Coordinating among various organizations and agencies has also been a challenge, partly because communication networks were cut during the quake. Coordination is critical to ensuring the effective delivery of aid, so we’re dealing with this constraint as well. Finally, the dense, urban environment of Port-au-Prince makes delivering aid much more difficult. Because of land laws, people can’t relocate easily, either.

What are Action Against Hunger’s future plans in Haiti?

We’re currently assisting about 100,000 people per day and are continuing to scale up our programs to reach more. Haiti is still in a state of emergency, so we are concentrating on relief efforts that fill immediate needs. Once the emergency phase passes, we’ll begin to concentrate on post-crisis recovery programs. We’ve been in Haiti since 1985, and we’ll be there long after the crisis subsides. We’re in this for the long haul.