Time and the support of the international community are among the key components Haiti needs in order to rebuild itself following the Jan. 12 earthquake that caused an estimated $7.8 billion in damage and losses to the Caribbean nation.
In the months ahead, Oxfam will provide some of that support with $60 million dedicated to a range of programs aimed at helping Haitians help themselves and at improving basic services in the teeming capital of Port-au-Prince.
More than 1,000 temporary camps sprawl across the ravaged city and beyond, and hemming people in at every turn are heaps of debris—25 million cubic yards of it. The piles are shrinking in some neighborhoods, but often only by an infinitesimal amount as residents clear the rubble by hand from hard-to-reach plots down narrow alleys and across steep hillsides.
Experts say that Haiti faces one of the most complex development challenges of modern times. Even before the quake, it was the poorest nation in the western hemisphere with more than half its people living on less than $1.25 a day.
“We have over one million people living in very precarious situations,” says Julie Schindall, Oxfam’s press officer stationed in the capital. “But now we have money and the attention of the world. We have to move ahead.”
Getting back to work
In the next six months, Oxfam will continue to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people still living in the camps, while working to rebuild communities and foster livelihoods.
“We’ll be supporting people’s ability to earn a salary so they can provide for their own needs,” says Schindall. “It’s the most sustainable way to offer assistance.” Grants to small business owners are one of the most direct and effective ways to accomplish that.
“If we give a grant to a small business owner who has lost his stock, he can replace that stock and get his business up and running,” Schindall says. “He doesn’t have to go back to Oxfam for more help.”
Oxfam will also be supporting community organizations to do vocational training for carpenters, masons, beauticians, and other tradespeople.
Helping to create job opportunities is a long-term project in Haiti. Before the earthquake, the unemployment rate in the formal sector was higher than 70 percent. But estimates also show that about 70 percent of all Haitians with jobs worked in the informal sector, offering their services as street vendors or day laborers.
Dignity and sanitation
Along with helping people recover their independence, Oxfam will be focusing a great deal of energy and resources on building the water and sanitation infrastructure across the city.
“It’s not a very sexy thing,” says Schindall. “but it’s how we prevent the spread of disease and it plays a huge part in people’s dignity.”
Haiti does not have a single sewage treatment facility anywhere in the country—either in urban centers or the rural regions. People often have no choice but to defecate in the open, or leave their wastes in plastic bags which get tossed away indiscriminately. Oxfam is working closely with DINEPA, the national Haitian water and sanitation authority, to develop the country’s first water quality guidelines and sewage treatment standards.
Oxfam has already been partnering with DINEPA to recruit water and sanitation engineers to help improve the professional skills of staffers at the authority.
“Once we help Haitians get things going, they can keep them going,” says Schindall. And by strengthening the basic water and sanitation infrastructure, that will encourage people to move back into homes that are structurally sound.
Water—a private affair
Before the quake, only a small portion of Port-au-Prince residents—the wealthy and middle class ones—actually had water delivered to their homes by the national water network known as CAMEP. Everyone else bought water from private companies and either lugged it home or had it delivered.
“If you think access to water is a basic right, it’s not true in Haiti,” says Schindall. “Water is a private business in Haiti. And poor people suffer most from lack of water .”
Purchasing it from private vendors consumes an enormous amount of poor people’s resources. Schindall said she met one man recently who was paying 25 gourdes a day for five gallons of water—in a country where so many live on less than 50 gourdes a day.
Ensuring that more people have access to the CAMEP network will lower their costs, and also, over time, strengthen the water authority so it can become a service people can count on.
“We’re trying to create solutions,” says Schindall. “Maybe we don’t solve all the problemsimmediately, but we have to keep our eye on the ball of recovery.”
Recovery, and development, requires a long-term vision and sustained commitment from the government of Haiti with support from the international community. As Oxfam implements recovery programs over the next half year, Oxfam will also continue to advocate for a just and sustainable rebuilding strategy in Haiti, led by the government with meaningful participation of Haitian civil society, including community and religious leaders and local nongovernmental organizations.