The earthquake of January 12, 2010, may prove to be a crossroad for Haiti. The people of this poor but proud country are certainly ready for the tide to turn in their favor. Mercy Corps, on the ground with humanitarian aid just two days after the disaster, is committed to helping them build back better.
As Haiti undertakes the enormous task of rebuilding, it makes sense to lessen the strain on urban systems and encourage development in rural areas that can be a magnet for new investment. That’s why Mercy Corps is focusing our efforts on the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley.
After the earthquake, an estimated 140,000 people fled Port-au-Prince to take shelter in this agricultural area. The new arrivals strained the resources of local families. Still, they opened their doors and hearts. Today newcomers and long-time residents urgently need the jobs that investment in the region will bring.
From Emergency Relief and Recovery to Long-Term Economic Development
Mercy Corps is providing short- and long-term support to displaced people, host families and the economy of the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley.
As part of our emergency relief and recovery effort, we have given temporary employment to 20,000 families, and we’re organizing market fairs and providing vouchers people can use to purchase the goods they need – shelter materials, tools, water – from local vendors. Parents can use the vouchers to pay their children’s school fees and buy uniforms and supplies. Working with local governments and communities to determine their priorities, we’re paying laborers to improve roads and help mitigate rainy season flooding by cleaning drainage canals and building levees. And, we’re helping women heads of households resume or take up new income-generating activities. All these projects infuse cash into the local economy. Our ultimate aim is to help build a viable economy that supports everyone, paying particular attention to those who are most vulnerable.
To help the people of Haiti support themselves over the long term, we are undertaking a number of agriculture-focused economic development initiatives. Our recovery strategy centers on improving yields, reducing post-harvest losses and increasing the incomes of small farmers.
Mobile Technology Brings Greater Stability
We’re also using technology to break new ground. Mercy Corps has partnered with a leading Haitian telecom company, Voilà, and its premier financial institution, Unibank, to launch the country’s first mobile money solution. Our innovative partnership has achieved a milestone in leveraging wireless technology to spur recovery and development in Haiti.
The solution allows cell phones to store monetary value and function as “mobile wallets.” Mercy Corps voucher and grant recipients can directly receive, withdraw and transfer funds, and pay for goods from affiliated merchants, using these mobile phones. It’s a safe and convenient way for our beneficiaries to conduct their daily business.
The initiative is well-suited to Haiti, where bank branches are few (two per 100,000 people), cell phones are everywhere (85 percent of the population has one) and people are quick to adapt to new mobile applications. Mobile money helps poor and “unbanked” people access financial services the developed world takes for granted – such as savings accounts that improve families’ economic stability and insurance that protects them against future loss. These services create a foundation for economic growth that benefits Haiti’s most impoverished families.
Investing in the Well-Being of Children
The future of Haiti depends on the well-being of its children. Through our Comfort for Kids program, Mercy Corps trains educators and caregivers to understand and respond to the emotional and physical needs of children affected by the earthquake. Our Moving Forward play-based psychosocial program trains members of local organizations to hold their own sports programs that strengthen kids’ resilience, teach communication and teamwork, and restore healthy coping strategies. We’re even producing an educational children’s television show, Timoun Alez (Comfort for Kids, in Creole), to reach a broader audience with life skills and health lessons.
Great challenges lie ahead to build a functioning economy in Haiti that offers opportunity to all. We’re enthusiastic about the innovative projects proposed by our Haiti team and others. And we’ve seen the entrepreneurial spirit of the Haitian people. They are determined to seize the work opportunities that will enable them to take care of their families. We believe it is up to us, along with the Haitian government and our colleague organizations, to help them succeed.