Photo from the Sacramento Bee, 8/17/10, Getty Images/Joe Raedle
Some organizations really understand the meaning of patience, perseverance and creativity.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of them. UMCOR, a charity with a 70-year history of relief and recovery work around the world, went into Haiti following the earthquake of January 12, 2010. That quake left 300,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1.3 million homeless.
According to the August 22 Washington Post, most of those Haitians rendered homeless by the earthquake still live in tents or under leaky tarps. Much earthquake rubble remains in place, as depicted in the Sacramento Bee’s photo blog of August 17.
That would strain anybody’s patience.
“We knew from the beginning we would have to be creative,” Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR Director of Communications, said during our recent telephone conversation.
Talk about an understatement!
The RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank, released its report, “Building a More Resilient Haitian State,” on August 13, 2010, accompanied by its research brief. According to RAND, Haiti’s history of poor government was largely responsible for the extent of the devastation and near total dependence on outside help to deal with the consequences. Acute problems piled atop chronic ones, like when a cancer patient has a heart attack.
Yet Haiti is a patient with hope.
UMCOR, like many other organizations, responded to the crisis and now helps to lay a foundation for Haiti’s future. One of UMCOR’s current projects is to build nine temporary schools–capable of withstanding hurricanes–at a resettlement camp in Corail. Hands On Disaster Response (HODR), a US-based, volunteer-driven nonprofit started constructing ten temporary schools in Leogane last February. A video of HODR’s work was posted August 2 on YouTube. Temporary schools are being built because the Haitian government moves slower than a one-legged turtle when approving permanent structures. Obtaining government permits of any sort takes time.
For example, want to register a business? Plan on 195 days. To register a property title, wait 405 days.
UMCOR will be able to reuse a majority of the temporary-school materials when they obtain approval for transition to building permanent schools. In Haiti, usable materials aren’t wasted. Resources are scarce and the best tool to predict movement of unloaded goods through the port system may be a Ouija board. UMCOR has been working with UN Operations to develop a turn-key solution for these temporary schools given procurement and port issues.
Food crops also are a less-than-abundant resource. Local agriculture once provided 60% of Haiti’s food. Now 60% is imported and food is expensive. According to the August 30 Taiwan News, a Taiwanese agricultural mission stationed in Haiti is experimenting with a new rice variety to increase Haiti’s annual rice production. Oxfam America has sponsored a small irrigation project to bring a reliable water supply to approximately 150 Haitian farmers. Yet substantial strengthening of Haitian agriculture will present a challenge, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, as long as Haitian rice must compete with subsidized rice imported from other countries.
“Frankly, everything in post-earthquake Haiti is a challenge,” wrote Rev. Cynthia Harvey (Head of UMCOR) in “Navigating a Landscape of Hope on Haiti.” ”We can blame government, the lack of infrastructure, and red tape for the difficulties and impediments, but that is not productive. The one thing that is not only productive but fruitful is to remain faithful to our call to love our neighbor.”
The people of Haiti are our neighbors and have amazing inner strength. When Melissa Hinnen went there in April, the people’s spirit and resilience touched her. A Haitian woman had lost her home and her mother in the disaster. When Melissa expressed sympathy, the woman said, “We go on. That’s not all there is.”
“To survive,” Melissa told me, “the Haitian people find something deeper than what we are used to in our own safe culture.”
I agree! Just contemplate survival in a country where, before the earthquake:
- The average daily income for most was less than $2.
- 54% of people had access to improved water and 30% to an improved sewer system.
- 40% lacked access to health care.
- One-half of the population was illiterate, including some judges.
- 75-85% of people in prison were detained pretrial for an illegally long period of time.
On August 13, NPR published key RAND Report recommendations to address Haiti’s problems. Now that the Interim Haitian Recovery Commission has approved a new round of projects (August 20, United Nations Radio,) I hope some of RAND’s recommendations will be addressed.
The people of Haiti hope so, too.
UMCOR and other organizations encourage Haitian communities to take ownership of their problems but grass-roots reform isn’t enough. Patience, perseverance and creativity only go so far.
To rebuild Haiti, Haiti must rebuild its government.
Warm regards from,
Laurel Anne Hill (Author of “Heroes Arise”)
Causes Laurel Hill Supports
Winter Nights Shelter and Shelter, Inc.