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Interview: planning for emergencies in Haiti

Planning for disasters!

Three years after the earthquake: Emergency aid must become a part of life in Haiti

The earthquake in January 2010 was not the last natural disaster to strike Haiti: time and again, this Caribbean state is hit by hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. The Haitian government and international aid agencies consistently interrupt longer-term development programmes in order to help the victims. To ensure that Haiti does not drift from one emergency situation to the next, it is important that disaster aid is integrated into long-term projects, says Welthungerhilfe employee Rafaël Schneider, who visited the country in November.

Emergency aid must become an integral part of life in Haiti. © Schernikau
Emergency aid must become an integral part of life in Haiti. © Schernikau

There is still rubble on the streets of Haiti, and some people are still living in tents. Is that not hopeless?

Rafaël Schneider: Compared with the time after the earthquake, when I also visited Haiti, much has changed for the better: many of the refugee camps have been closed down. People no longer have to live in the windy tents, and many were able to move into small houses. Those houses are earthquake-proof and also protect against storms and mosquitoes.

Criteria such as "earthquake- and storm-resistant" should really be considered as part of every new building measure...

Schneider: Hardly a year goes by without a natural event hitting at least some parts of the country. In 2012 it was a drought and storms Isaac and Sandy which destroyed large parts of the harvest. Haiti is located in the path of hurricanes and is also at risk for earthquakes. This must be taken into account for all development concepts!

How can disasters be included in the planning process?

Schneider: Many emergency situations can be predicted, such as cholera epidemics for example. Cholera has broken out quite regularly over the last few years. Time and again, monies are taken from long-term development budgets to treat the sick and provide drinking water. This only helps in the short term: it is very likely that cholera will return if drinking and waste water systems are not improved. Steps can also be taken as part of the country's settlement plans: there should not be any building near the rivers, which are regularly hit by high water, or on hillsides that are at risk for landslides. Disaster prevention programmes must be developed for vulnerable regions, so that people can be evacuated quickly in the case of flooding, for example. Above all, all long-term measures must include a consideration of emergency aid. This means that both the government as well as development organisations must include funds for emergency situations and disaster risk reduction in their planning. 

The past has shown that the Haitian government is not strong enough to shoulder this responsibility on its own.

Schneider: Foreign donors have taken control of the country's development particularly after the 2010 earthquake. This was made possible by the fact that the earthquake further weakened the government and it did not have the financial resources to provide sufficient assistance. At this time, the government is again trying to play a greater role: the agricultural ministry has initiated plans for food security, among others. However, the state secretary in charge bemoans the lack of attention given to these documents. Now it will also depend on the development organisations: we have to align our concepts with these plans.

Jan Rabel in the North of the country has shown how long-term development aid can work: here, droughts and storms did not cause as much damage as in other regions.

Schneider: Welthungerhilfe has been active in this region for more than ten years, and is adhering to a long-term development plan. The supply of drinking water was not interrupted by the hurricanes, as wind-resistant rain traps and cisterns were able to withstand the wind gusts. Similarly, harvests only incurred very minimal damage from the strong rains, storm and drought phases during the last year. Hillside plantings, erosion protection walls and clever irrigation systems have helped to adapt agriculture to natural weather events. The rest of the country must do the same: Haiti's future cannot continue to be determined by emergency situations.

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