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One year after deadly quake, Mercy Corps combats cholera, spurs recovery in Haiti

Haiti, January 5, 2011

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Efforts focus on containing cholera, creating economic opportunities, investing in mobile technology with powerful potential to improve lives

PORTLAND, Ore. – As Haitians prepare to mark the passing of one year since the deadly January 12th earthquake, Mercy Corps has published a report detailing progress in emergency assistance and long-term rebuilding. The relief and development agency’s recent work to combat a deadly outbreak of cholera is built on nearly a year of activity in Port-au-Prince camps and the Haitian provinces. Mercy Corps, which did not work in Haiti before the earthquake, has also made strides to help young people overcome post-earthquake trauma, and to spur development outside of the capital.

The powerful earthquake last January killed approximately 230,000 Haitians and leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince. An estimated 1.3 million people are still homeless. Thus far, Mercy Corps’ programs have improved the lives of 830,000 Haitians.

“January 12th will be a day of tremendous sadness for Haiti. The Mercy Corps global family joins the world in mourning the loss of 230,000 of our Haitian brothers and sisters,” said Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer. “One year later, urgent emergency needs persist while efforts to address the root causes of poverty must move forward. This is the challenge that our Haiti team faces everyday; their progress has been significant.”

Haiti’s persistent emergency needs were underscored when cholera broke out in mid-October after a 50-year absence. Mercy Corps immediately launched a response to help contain the epidemic, delivering hygiene supplies and life-saving prevention and treatment information to nearly 400,000 people in Port-au-Prince camps and the heavily impacted Central Plateau. In the coming months, work in the Central Plateau will continue with the distribution of water-treatment tablets, oral rehydration salts, soap and chlorine supplies to more than 155,000 people.

Mercy Corps’ rapid cholera response builds on months of working in 25 Port-au-Prince camps to improve conditions with clean water, latrines and showers. In addition, the agency provided an economic boost to people living in camps by creating temporary jobs for 14,500 households. Mercy Corps’ work in Haiti’s capital has also included transformative programs for youth, including “Comfort for Kids,” which teaches parents and other caregivers to help children recover from trauma, and “Moving Forward,” which uses sports to build kids' self-esteem and resiliency.

Mercy Corps has also focused on promoting development outside of Port-au-Prince, in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley. An estimated 100,000 survivors fled the capital for these regions after the earthquake; most of them stayed with impoverished local families who have struggled to provide for them. Mercy Corps is working to give survivors the option to remain outside of the capital, reducing the pressure on Port-au-Prince as it struggles to rebuild, and to help local families improve their living conditions.

The agency began this work by offering temporary jobs to support 20,000 families, and is providing vouchers for food and other basic supplies, as well short-term cash assistance to tens of thousands of families. To lay the foundations for long-term development, Mercy Corps is giving small grants to 5,000 people to start small business ventures such as beekeeping or tailoring. In the coming months, the agency will help farmers learn skills to turn their farms into profitable businesses that can drive a stronger Haitian export market.

“Growing regional economies is critical to the successful rebuilding of Port-au-Prince and the development of a more equitable Haitian economy,” explained Mercy Corps Country Director Brian Oakes, who has lived and worked in Haiti for more than 30 years. “Many Haitians are originally from these areas and want to stay, but they need opportunities to earn income outside of the capital city.”

Mercy Corps has also tapped into technology to advance development. The agency partnered with mobile operator Voilà and Haitian bank Unibank to introduce Haiti’s first “mobile wallet.” This technology has allowed Mercy Corps to more effectively and safely deliver cash assistance, and will soon provide “unbanked” families first-time access to a range of financial services. Mobile banking is thought to have great potential in Haiti, where few people have bank accounts but 85 percent have access to a cell phone.

“Haitians are amazingly resilient, talented and eager to build their country back better. Mercy Corps’ job is to get creative and work with the private sector, government, and other partners to help Haitians realize their dream of a strong, self-sufficient nation. It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, but we can do it and Haitians deserve it,” said Oakes.

Mercy Corps’ full one-year report can be read at http://www.mercycorps.org/haitioneyear.