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Haiti, nine weeks after the earthquake — what happens next

Haiti, March 9, 2010

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Week 9 post-earthquake: Mercy Corps, like our partners and peers, has been focused on emergency response. We’ve been busy with distributions, Comfort for Kids, water and sanitation provision, and more.

But what should we do now that contributes to long-term recovery? The context is challenging at best. Consider these statistics:

  • Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere
  • It is ranked 146th out of 177 countries in terms of human development
  • 80 percent of Haiti's people live in abject poverty
  • Unemployment here is somewhere between 70 and 80 percent
  • Literacy is only 62 percent
  • About 96 percent of the land is deforested and its soils and slopes eroding — which makes it more vulnerable to hurricanes and other storms

Then, of course, there's the impact of the earthquake. There’s a lot to do. And so the Mercy Corps Haiti team took a pause last Sunday to prioritize focus and direction, to consolidate thinking and strategy. Program managers who'd helped direct emergency responses in places like Darfur, Indonesia's Aceh Province and Sri Lanka shared their experience in moving from disaster to long-term recovery.

The strategy that arose — which reflects what we've been planning since shortly after the earthquake — is that we’re going to roll out a recovery strategy based on job creation through urban regeneration and resilience, rural infrastructure development, and business development focused through small and medium enterprises. All of these things are interlinked and will integrate issues surrounding youth, education and vocational training, environmental responsibility and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

It's a complex but complementary strategy to address a wide range of challenges, many of which existed well before the earthquake struck.

In the short-term, we’ll still need to focus on emergency recovery, but we want to start targeting activities in ways that will blossom into long-term revitalization. In rural areas — where we're focusing on places hosting displaced people from earthquake-shattered cities — this will likely include working on improving feeder roads to help deliver produce to markets; improving irrigation; and recovering degraded land for tree planting for cash crops and fuel wood.

In urban areas, we’re looking at DRR measures in anticipation of coming rains and the hurricane season; waste management measures — particularly those focusing on income generation such as organic waste composting; and critical upgrades to water and sanitation service delivery.

For the long-term — through approaches including small business development, community associations, microfinance and related services — we intend to build on current activities to create sustainable jobs in agricultural markets and urban recovery.

In a post-disaster environment clear goals are needed, but plans need to flexible to make sure we achieve them on a road that’s bound to be full of surprises. We have those goals now, and hope to be on the road to achieving them.