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Haiti - Two years on

Haiti - Two years on
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Feature: Haiti - Two Years On
10 January 2012

Lycee Dumay school rebuilt by Islamc Relief

On 12th January 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed over 300,000 people and left many more seriously injured. It was the largest natural disaster to hit a city in modern history, and the most powerful earthquake the tiny Caribbean country had experienced in 200 years.

Two years ago, Haiti lay in ruins. With homes, schools and hospitals destroyed, it was a wasteland of rubble, dead bodies and distraught people whose lives had been thrown off course. With between $8 and $14 billion worth of damage and very little infrastructure in place, the people of Haiti have been caught up in a desperate struggle to survive.

Islamic Relief has been working in Haiti for the last two years, providing emergency assistance and helping people rebuild their lives. 

Haiti, before the earthquake

Before the earthquake, Haiti was a country that had been suffering from years of political instability as well as natural disasters including cyclones and tropical storms. One of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, more than half  the population of Haiti lived on less than $1 a day and a third of all children suffered from chronic malnutrition – one of the highest rates in the world.

“The level of devastation caused by the recent earthquake has only added to the deep problems Haiti faces. The earthquake has caused such a level of damage and destruction that it has set the countries development back by 15 years, with an expected cost of 15% of its GDP,” said Moustafa Osman, Head of the Humanitarian Department at Islamic Relief.

The immediate aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the people of Haiti were in desperate need of assistance including food, water and shelter.

“Within 72 hours of the earthquake Islamic Relief staff arrived in Haiti and established the Parc Sainte Claire camp in Port-au-Prince eight days later – the first organised camp in the country’s capital,” said Moustafa.

“Two more camps were set up shortly afterwards and residents, like those in the Parc Sainte Claire camp, were provided with shelter, food and water, vital hygiene products and household items like pots, pans and cooking utensils.”

In total, 5,000 people were given shelter, and the food packs people received gave them one month’s supply of basic foods like beans and powdered milk.

Rebuilding lives

“Having assisted people immediately after the earthquake to ensure they had enough support to survive, the focus of Islamic Relief’s work changed after three months as efforts were made to help communities recover from the crisis,” said Moustafa.

Since the earthquake damaged or destroyed 4,000 schools throughout Haiti - with 80% of the schools in Portau-Prince affected – Islamic Relief built 16 temporary structures, which enabled 2,000 children to continue their studies.

Oxe Jean Yves is the head teacher of a secondary school in Port-au-Prince; nine of his classrooms were destroyed by the earthquake.

“We received materials to make temporary shelters but I wanted them [Islamic Relief] to rebuild our school so that the children would have a good environment in which to study,” said Oxe.

Eventually, as part of its school construction programme, Islamic Relief constructed a building with 20 classrooms to offer more space for the school’s students since their previous classrooms were too small to accommodate them all.  

“It took some time but my dream is now a reality. I don’t know how to thank you,” added Oxe.

Preventing disease

A year after the earthquake, 3,600 Haitians died in a cholera epidemic as people were forced to drink contaminated water.

Islamic Relief ensured that its three camps offered clean drinking water to its residents – distributing 25,500 litres on a daily basis - and also conducted hygiene awareness sessions designed to promote better hygiene practices.

Hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper and other essential items were distributed to residents, while toilet and shower facilities helped minimise the spread of disease.
These measures - along with the construction of water channels that keep flood water from spreading diseases through the camp - helped reduce the amount of people infected by cholera.  

Two years on, the aid effort continues

Islamic Relief is now focusing on development programmes in Haiti that will help people rebuild their lives. “We are constructing over 450 waterproof and wind resistant transitional shelters to house over 2,000 people,” said Moustafa. “We are also rebuilding schools and offering vocational training to those affected by the crisis.”

23-year-old Michael Demostene is enrolled on Islamic Relief’s tailoring training programme. “In life you have to learn a trade. I want to learn a skill so that I can work for myself, so that I am not reliant on others,” he said.

Almost 600 people have now benefitted from Islamic Relief’s training programmes which include IT and carpentry as well as tailoring. Islamic Relief has also created thousands of employment opportunities for people through its cash-for-work schemes, one of which included employing people to clear 200,000 tonnes of debris created by the earthquake.

“Although the earthquake in Haiti happened two years ago, and many people have been helped since then, the task of rebuilding the country is a long process, and the people of Haiti will continue to need support to achieve this, ” added Moustafa.

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