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Haiti: Five years after the earthquake

Houses for my country

In 2010, around 217,000 people died in an earthquake in Haiti. 2.3 million became homeless.
Engineer Joseph Edner is building new houses with his compatriots.

(05/01/2015) Ask Joseph Edner what would happen if the many international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had left Haiti after just six months of emergency aid and he doesn’t take long to reply. “There would have been large rebellions, bloody distribution conflicts about water, food and medicines.” On the idea that the NGOs should have failed in Haiti, as is always dicussed in Germany around the anniversary of the earthquake, the engineer can only comment with a perplexed shake of the head. “The criticism of NGOs is immensely important”, says the 36-year-old, “but it can only improve our work if it is sophisticated criticism. And it’s about a better life for the people in Haiti, rather than criticism, surely?”

Joseph Edner in conversation with a farmer near to Petit-Goâve. © Schmidt
Joseph Edner in conversation with a farmer near to Petit-Goâve. © Schmidt
After the 2010 earthquake: Together with Welthungerhilfe, workers clear away rubble and begin to build new houses.
After the 2010 earthquake: Together with Welthungerhilfe, workers clear away rubble and begin to build new houses.
Farmer Aristoman St. Louis is responsible for the irrigation channels in his area. © Rosenthal
Farmer Aristoman St. Louis is responsible for the irrigation channels in his area. © Rosenthal

On 12th January 2010, engineer Joseph Edner sat in front of the television as the earth began to quake. Showing great presence of mind, he pulled his wife from the collapsed house in Petit-Goâve. They spent the night with friends in the cold open air, the fear of aftershocks was great. The next morning, Joseph headed through the chaos. He succeeded in getting hold of a tent. And so began a life of little privacy for the couple. However, after just two months, they found accommodation in an undestroyed house. 

"We Haitians must be actors in our own development”

In August 2010 Joseph applied to Welthungerhilfe for a job, one month later he started work as deputy project manager. From then on, he belonged to the Cadres, Haitian employees who are trained in management tasks. In June 2014 he became project manager. Joseph Edner does not like to talk about the other NGOs, he would much rather discuss the philosophy of Welthungerhilfe. The most important point is that, “we Haitians must be allowed to be actors in our own development. Therefore, Welthungerhilfe works in collaboration with local and state authorities and trains Haitian employees. And from the beginning we have worked towards making ourselves superfluous.” 

Increasing guidance for self-help

Mistakes have been made, Joseph concedes. “How could it be otherwise?” The washing facilities are a little too far from the new toilets, which makes it easy to forget to wash hands. “In the future, we will instruct residents more in self-help.” The image of Haitian victims and foreign aid workers – it remains a cliché, at least here in Petit-Goâve. Haitians and Germans alike are pitching in so that the lives of people take a long-term turn for the better.

Øle Schmidt works as a freelance writer in Latin America and Asia. The unabridged article can be found in the journal Welternährung 4/2014 (in German only).


Five years after the earthquake in Haiti. Video: The rocky road to recovery

Learn more about Joseph Edner and his review of the last five years' developments.

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Welthungerhilfe reached 1.71 million people in Haiti.

Emergency aid: Clearance of building rubble and the distribution of relief supplies such as tents, water and food.

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