By: Sarah Leavitt
On January 12 the ground shook. It trembled like never before. In just a few horrifying moments, a massive earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and major provincial cities like Jacmel, Léogâne, and Petit-Goâve.
The world watched in horror as the toll on human life unfolded. Never before, declared UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has a natural disaster been so devastating.
The Presidential Palace crumbled, UN headquarters were destroyed, building after building collapsed like pancakes.
Unbelievably, 250,000 residences were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.
The horrible stench of death lurked in the city for weeks afterwards. Over 200,000 people were killed. More than 150,000 individuals injured and left to live life as amputees. In the blink of an eye, nearly 2 million Haitians were rendered homeless.
Photo: Roberto (Bear) Guerra
Responding to such a catastrophe has not been easy. Through the rubble, roads were impossible to navigate and trying to coordinate the influx of international donor agencies was declared a logistical nightmare.
Earthquake survivors left with no homes, no food, and no jobs quickly realized that aid distribution would be slow and unreliable.
Thus over 500,000 affected residents caught the first bus they could find to live with family members and friends in the rural provinces of Haiti.
This massive migration of internally displaced persons has wreaked havoc on already impoverished rural communities, where the average person still survives on less than $2 a day. Some rural populations (so much as) doubled overnight.
Keeping with the Haitian tradition of peasant solidarity, rural communities have been quick to take in quake survivors and have shared with them everything they have. The 80-year-old mother of the field monitor for Fon Lanbi Pou Ayiti has taken in 39 people in her small house.
Christianne Adrien, a street vendor, and her husband Ilson, a farmer, took in 18 members of her extended family. "If it were for the money, we would never have done it."
After the earthquake, more than a half million people fled Port au Prince and relocated to rural areas.
They, along with thousands of peasants throughout Haiti have spent what little they have on clean water, medical supplies, clothing, bags of rice, and cans of beans for their new neighbors. Peasants have slaughtered precious cows to bring meat to patients at local hospitals.
Christianne continues, "We did this because we wanted them to have a life. If God saved the life of some people from a catastrophe of that size, it's so that we can protect the life of others. People have to live; you have to receive them."
Clearly, the earthquake has touched each and every Lambi Fund of Haiti staff member who along with their fellow citizens sustained damages and suffered personal losses. In spite of these hardships, Lambi Fund staff members sprang into action to help address the urgent needs of 43 rural communities impacted greatly by the massive exodus out of the capital.
In collaboration with our grassroots partners, Lambi Fund convened regional assemblies of local peasants to define immediate needs and prioritize rebuilding efforts.
In the first phase, Lambi Fund focused on the delivery of food and other essentials to rural communities to meet the immediate needs of earthquake survivors who had resettled to these communities.
With the help of regional committees and other partners, the Lambi Fund was able to distribute the following:
- Done (wired $712k)
- Grants to 22 grassroots groups in Artibonite, which has received over 162,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Port au Prince - to buy clothes, food, meds, and other essentials and infuse the local economy
- Cash disbursements to cover losses of Fon Lanbi Pou Ayiti staff members in Port au Prince
- Grants to two grassroots women's groups in Port au Prince who lost everything in the quake - to buy clothes, food, meds, and other essentials and infuse the local economy
- Grants to four grassroots groups in the Northwest, which has received over 45,000 IDPs - to buy clothes, food, meds, and other essentials and infuse the local economy
- Grants to 17 grassroots groups in the South, which has received over 25,000 IDPs - to buy clothes, food, meds, and other essentials and infuse the local economy
- Distributed medications (value $8K, donated by UUSC) to hospital in Gwomon
- Distributed tents and basic supplies to 17 grassroots groups in South (donated by Hope for Haiti)
- Grants to 42 peasant organizations for Farmers Credit Funds so that 1,260 farmers in the Artibonite, South, West and Northwest departments can plant increased crops to feed themselves and IDPs with locally grown food.
Next steps in rebuilding Haiti include focusing on sustaining and strengthening development in rural areas including:
- Mid and long term ($1M)
- Increase micro-enterprises with additional community microcredit funds
- Increase organic, locally-grown food and clean water with expanded sustainable agriculture, reforestation and water access projects
- Increase livelihoods with expanded sustainable development projects, such as pig and goat breeding, grain mills and sugar cane mills
- Build 880 latrines to prevent spread of disease and increase sanitation in rural areas, as a result of rapidly growing population from IDPs
- Distribute 100 wheelchairs to the large number of amputees whose limbs were crushed in the earthquake.
- Expand women's programs to address the special needs of women (who are more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual assault in tent cities but several organized women's groups are standing up for the rights of women and children)
Supporting Policy Advocacy to express the voice of the Haitian people in rebuilding Haiti will be an important component of long-term rebuilding plans. Lambi Fund is committed to taking a leadership role in advocacy by speaking out on behalf of rural communities, by creating strong partnerships with a coalition of like-minded groups working together to rebuild Haiti, and by supporting the needs of women, particularly within the context of the rebuilding effort now underway. As foreign corporations and governments jockey for rebuilding contracts, the Haitian voice has been neglected.
Photo: Roberto (Bear) Guerra
This cannot continue; the voice of the majority must be heard.
In order to incorporate Haitians and their perspectives, Lambi Fund has developed a five point plan for prioritizing rebuilding in Haiti:
- National sovereignty. The ownership of rebuilding Haiti must come from the Haitian people. Real change must come from the majority poor. Not from politicians. Not from the elite. And not from foreign governments. Haitians must be the change agents through participatory democracy.
- Decentralization. The migration of over 500,000 earthquake survivors from the rubble of Port-au-Prince to rural Haiti offers the opportunity to create a decentralized infrastructure that can lead to regional centers for economic development, better roads, public education, health care, social services and access to potable water and sanitation.
- Stimulate local economy. The earthquake offers a unique opportunity for the international community to work in partnership with Haitian peasant groups to increase our capacity to feed the country and support the local economy.
- Rebuild Haiti right. In addition to true land reform, Port au Prince and other damaged towns must be rebuilt with disaster resistant building codes that are rigorously monitored. Rebuilding must be done by Haitians, who are desperately in need of a boost in fair and equitable employment opportunities.
- Environment must be at the center of restoring Haiti. Deforestation represents one of the greatest threats to Haiti's food security. Restoration of the environment is crucial to sustaining a functioning economy and productive agricultural sector, providing sufficient employment, and recreating natural buffers against inevitable environmental challenges, which include climate change.
Lambi Fund recognizes the critical role that will be played by women and farmers in the rebuilding of Haiti, and will continue to advocate for their inclusion in the creation of a plan and a new vision for Haiti.
Read the Lambi Fund of Haiti's Spring 2010 Newsletter in its entirety.