Haiti Relief, Six Months after the Quake
By Linda Unger*
July 6, 2010—During the half-year since an earthquake unleashed massive destruction in Haiti, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been devoted to both providing immediate assistance to survivors and laying the groundwork for a large-scale, long-term recovery effort.
The destruction in Haiti still seems incomprehensible. Experts say it is out of all proportion to the 7.0-magnitude that the earthquake measured, due, at least in part, to nearly universal poor infrastructure and the economic constraints that impeded improvements.
Schools, hospitals, government buildings, small and large businesses were crushed in the earthquake, as were hundreds of thousands of homes.
In April, the United Nations’ head of mission offered revised casualty figures that put the number of dead between 250,000 and 300,000. According to the BBC, one in every 15 Haitians affected by the earthquake perished. Some 300,000 people were injured and more than a million left homeless.
Aftershocks continue to shake the tiny nation, adding to survivors’ emotional and spiritual stress. The US Geological Survey says the aftershocks are likely to continue throughout 2010 and may cause additional damage.
And then there is hurricane season. It is raining now in Haiti—a daily, short, tropical rain. Yet at any time over the next five months that rain could become a fierce storm like the four that tore through the country less than a year and a half before the earthquake, causing flooding and killing hundreds.
Haiti is not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. But over the past six months, the Haitian people have begun to mobilize for their recovery. UMCOR is there and digging in for the long haul.
UMCOR’s chief partner in both immediate relief and long-range recovery in Haiti is L’Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (EMH) , the Methodist Church of Haiti.
Just days after the disaster, when UMCOR staff arrived in Haiti and proposed a distribution of food and clean water among earthquake survivors, EMH personnel identified the neediest people from among an ocean of needy people to receive the aid. EMH volunteers then carried out the distribution.
UMCOR has since reopened a field office in Port-au-Prince (the original office closed in 2008) and is collaborating with EMH in the development of cash-for-work programs for survivors, demolition and debris removal, and strengthening and developing the church’s human resources.
With thousands of US-based volunteers anxious to lend a hand in Haiti, UMCOR worked with EMH and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) to establish an arrangement whereby US volunteers could serve in Haiti without displacing Haitian workers in need of a recovery job. Under the arrangement, for every US volunteer on a project, two Haitians are at work.
From the start of the disaster, UMCOR has made grants to other partners already on the ground in Haiti. Collaborations include provision of clean water and emergency medical supplies with Global Medic, livelihoods support via Haitian Artisans for Peace International ; medicine and emergency health interventions via Grace Children’s Hospital; and community health support via Global Health Action.
UMCOR is also an active partner in Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance and is supporting ACT sister organizations with grants for projects meant to enhance the living conditions of the most vulnerable Haitians affected by the earthquake.
Immediate assistance to those affected by the quake also has been made available to Haitians living in the United States by way of UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) program, US Annual Conferences, and Refugee Ministry.
JFON set up a series of immigration clinics to help Haitian immigrants take advantage of the US government’s offer of temporary protected status (TPS), while Refugee Ministry collaborated with partner Church World Service to support Haitian medical evacuees, and their families, in the US for treatment. The Florida Annual Conference is providing support services for Haitian evacuees, their families and communities through the South Florida Urban Ministries program.
The UMCOR Haiti field office, which was reestablished in February, is digging in its heels for long-term recovery, just as other UMCOR field offices have done in Indonesia (following the 2004 tsunami), Sudan, Sri Lanka, and other emergency situations.
EMH assistance was invaluable in locating and leasing an office for the mission in Port-au-Prince. Staff, including an operations coordinator, a finance director, a shelter and reconstruction coordinator, and a church liaison, have since been hired. Soon, a livelihoods coordinator and a water, sanitation and hygiene coordinator will round out the team.
Field office staff participate in United Nations-coordinated cluster meetings, which organize nongovernmental relief groups into specific focus areas. UMCOR Haiti has defined three areas of focus for its recovery work: shelter, livelihoods, and water/sanitation/hygiene. It is also working with the education cluster to set up school tents, so that children can return to classes.
At this writing, a shipping container filled with health kits and school kits is on its way to the UMCOR field office in Haiti. Kits have been prepared in the hundreds of thousands by United Methodists in the US who are eager to help.
Although UMCOR managed to send kits to Haiti over the past several months via relief partners such as Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, Bahamas Habitat, and Catholic Medical Mission Board, this is the first container to be sent directly from UMCOR Sager Brown depot to the UMCOR Haiti field office. More will follow.
In addition to the work of the field office, the UMCOR Health unit is preparing to address health concerns as part of the recovery effort. In April, the unit met with health and hospital partners active in Haiti and in the Methodist Hospital network in the United States, to assess needs.
A follow-up visit to Haiti determined that the most pressing health needs are the building and assembling of a physical therapy unit, which is planned for Grace Children’s Hospital, and the funding of an Individual Mission Volunteer health coordinator to organize medical volunteers who have offered their services in large numbers.
In mid-June, UMCOR executives met in Haiti with 25 leaders of EMH and collaborators from the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the United Church of Canada to envision a future for Haiti beyond the earthquake and the many years of recovery to come.
They drew the broad strokes of a development plan that would focus on health, education, microenterprise, and agriculture. The details of a framework for moving the plan forward will be filled in over the next six months.
Over these first six months since the tragedy in Haiti, the solidarity expressed by United Methodists and other people of goodwill with the Haitian people has been astonishing. The Apostle Paul said, “Love never ends,” and that would seem to be the case here.
UMCOR’s partnership with United Methodist annual conferences and congregations is the engine that has driven all of UMCOR’s relief and recovery efforts described above.
From the first days of the emergency, volunteers offered their services and their expertise. Schoolchildren gave up their allowances. Congregations organized themselves to assemble health kits (more than 700,000 have been donated). And artists staged showings and concerts to raise funds. At last count, more than $40 million had been contributed.
Though much has been accomplished, the recovery in Haiti is still in its earliest phases. Support will continue to be needed, as tents give way to temporary shelters and ultimately, to permanent homes, schools, places of worship, and small businesses.
UMCOR will partner with the people of Haiti for years to come. Gifts to support UMCOR's work can be made online by visiting www.umcorhaiti.org. For gifts by mail, please make checks payable to UMCOR and mail to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please indicate Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325 on the memo line of your check. One hundred percent of gifts made to this advance will help the people of Haiti.