UMCOR in Haiti, Two Months Later
By Linda Unger *
March 11, 2010—Two months after an earthquake damaged or destroyed three-quarters of the Haitian capital, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is poised to deepen its relief work and move into the early stages of long-term recovery operations.
“We’ve established a solid foundation now,” said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive for international disaster response.
“We’ve opened the office in Port-au-Prince and we’re operational,” she stated. “We’ve completed more needs assessments and we know what our approach will be.”
Crutchfield is one of four UMCOR executives who traveled to Haiti after the January 12 quake to view the aftermath first-hand. Some 230,000 people died in the disaster, 300,000 were injured and more than a million displaced from crushed homes and neighborhoods.
“Everywhere we went, we saw graffiti that said, ‘We need help,’” she recalled.
Since then, UMCOR has been assembling the pieces that will allow it to respond to the disaster over the long term in ways it deems most effective, consistent, collaborative and empowering of Haitian communities.
Up and Running
“The biggest issue right now is logistics,” said UMCOR executive Sharad Aggarwal, who also traveled to Haiti following the temblor. In order to get operations up and running, hiring key personnel has been a priority.
After UMCOR leased office space from the Methodist Church of Haiti (EMH) shortly after the earthquake, Emergency Response Coordinator Anthony Jones was hired; he deployed to Haiti last month. He will be joined soon by Operations Coordinator Azim Akhtar, who recently worked for UMCOR in Zimbabwe.
Jones’ chief tasks have been to continue to assess needs, refine UMCOR’s recovery plan, and represent UMCOR in the clusters of nongovernmental and international organizations coordinated by the United Nations, with the participation of the Haitian government, to respond to particular aspects of the disaster.
Three aspects in particular are emerging with some urgency at this stage, at least in part because of the approaching rainy season: construction of transitional shelters, livelihood development, and provision of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
“The United Nations has just provided guidelines for the fabrication of transitional shelters, so now we can get started,” said Thomas Dwyer, an UMCOR executive who oversees the work in UMCOR’s nine field offices, including Haiti. “We’re coordinating with the UN, so we can follow their best-practice guidelines and standards.”
“There is a common assumption that an organization with as much experience as UMCOR should be able to go into a disaster situation like this one and be operational right away,” Crutchfield said. “We want to gear up to do this on a massive scale. We want to get a lot of aid to a lot of people over a long period of time.”
“The way we approach our disaster response is to do the assessments, wait for the international guidelines and standards, and get the feedback and commitment from the local population. All of that takes time,” she said. “We now have the solid foundation we need.”
Partnerships have been indispensable in UMCOR’s efforts to respond to the survivors of the earthquake over the past two months, beginning with the partnership of the people of Haiti.
“Our disaster response success will be based on the strength of our relationship with the Haitian communities,” Aggarwal said.
The Methodist Church in Haiti has been both a partner and a doorway to partners at the community level, facilitating not only the acquisition of office space for UMCOR but, also, the identification of the most vulnerable populations and of volunteers empowered to serve them.
Churches in Latin America, the Caribbean and around the world have prayed, raised funds and offered volunteers.
The relationship between the United Methodist Church in the US and the Methodist Church of Haiti is particularly strong and “offers us an opportunity to collaborate such as we’ve never had before,” said Crutchfield.
Already some 2,000 volunteers have registered with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, offering to spend time, talents and their own funds to accompany the Haitian people in their recovery. Across the US, church groups have assembled the components of more than 350,000 health kits. Generous contributions total more than $13.8 million.
UMCOR also has channeled funds to partners on the ground in Haiti “to spread our response,” Crutchfield said. Grants have been made to the Methodist Church in Haiti, Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance, Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI), GlobalMedic and Global Health Action (GHA).
GHA is one of a dozen health organizations that sent representatives to UMCOR’s New York City headquarters March 11 to brainstorm long-term strategies to address important issues related to health in post-earthquake Haiti.
Challenges unfold every day in Haiti, and UMCOR’s plan is to be there for the long haul. “There is an opportunity here to start over, do it better, do it right in Haiti. We want to do this recovery with the people, not for them,” Crutchfield said.
Gifts to support UMCOR's work can be made online by visiting 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.
Read a weekly report of UMCOR's relief efforts in Haiti.
* Linda Unger is an UMCOR staff writer.