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First impressions

I arrived in Port-au-Prince last Friday for a short visit to see the progress that’s been made since Haiti’s enormous earthquake in January.


I also want to get a sense of the challenges for Concern and the people we work with.
Millions of euro were donated by the public in Ireland, the UK and the US and I’m keen to see firsthand how that money has improved the lives of the people we’re supporting.

Emergency phase

The earthquake response is still in the emergency phase, but plans are well underway to move to longer-term rehabilitation. There are reminders everywhere of the extraordinary nature of this disaster.

Disaster prone

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was already an extremely poor country: with four out of five people living on less than a dollar a day. The country has had more than its fair share of natural disasters in the form of floods and hurricanes, exacerbated by political instability. Infrastructure was weak and homes poorly constructed – “earthquakes don’t kill people, bad buildings do” is a phrase I’ve heard used by several colleagues.

Cooperation

The initial response from Concern and the international community is well documented here. Vast quantities of aid supplies were sent in the first days and weeks with an impressive level of cooperation between governments, aid agencies and the local community – all of whom had suffered their own devastating losses.

Successes

The task of getting that much material into the country was enormous and logistics are still difficult. Conditions are still wretched for many, but there are many successes to the response. These include the initial provision of food and water - many people have better access to water than before. Another example of success is the fact that the predicted outbreaks of disease and serious escalation in social unrest haven’t materialised.

This can be partly attributed to external aid, but the resilience of the Haitian people cannot be discounted. Family and neighbours are the first line of support for most people, and communities here have responded with patience and resolve to the difficulties they face every day.

Years ahead

Concern has been in Haiti since 1994 and the 100 staff (mostly Haitian) has now swelled to almost 300. This is the biggest operation in our 40 year history. We’re working with people to try to build stronger homes and find ways for people to get back to work to earn a sustainable income. This will help them get through the years ahead and the inevitable natural blows the country will face.