Posts Tagged ‘Response to Haiti earthquake’

On a mountain top several hours north of Port-au-Prince, twenty-five rural villages have organized themselves and are working hard to improve their lives.  By doing so, they are helping to lay one block in the foundation for Haiti’s future.  In spite of the earthquake, cholera and the political uncertainty created by recent flawed elections, they are making good progress.  The “Peasant Organization for the Development of the 8th Communal Section of Arcahaie” (OPD-8) has defined a simple but radical vision for their organization:  “To make our communities a good place for people to live.”  Such a vision for rural areas should guide the wider recovery process in Haiti.

Members of OPD-8 doing a training skit on sustainable agriculture.

Members of OPD-8 doing a training skit on sustainable agriculture.

Haiti’s historical legacy is one of destructive centralization. From the days of colonialism and plantation slavery until today, the political and economic center based in Port-au-Prince has drained resources from rural areas rather than promoting development there.  Over time this led to deforestation and dramatic erosion of soils, lowered food production and impoverished rural communities.  As fertile soil washed towards the sea, rural people followed – migrating to Port-au-Prince and other cities to live in terrible conditions.  When the earthquake struck, many of them were the most vulnerable and were killed or injured.

Earthquakes cannot be prevented.  Neither can the hurricanes that come each year.  And Haiti will continue to be dealt other blows beyond its control.  Cholera was introduced a few months ago and has become an epidemic.  At the global level, the UN is currently reporting dangerous increases in food prices, just as occurred in 2008 and led to food riots that brought down Haiti’s prime minister.  But the underlying rural poverty and soil erosion that makes the Haitian people so vulnerable to these shocks can be prevented and overcome.

Haiti remains predominantly rural and agricultural, with over 60% of the population depending on family farming.  Haiti’s peasant farmers work tiny, scattered parcels of land, often on eroded mountainsides, and live on one or two dollars a day.  But the families of OPD-8 have been working for over 12 years to conserve their soil, diversify their farms, and increase their food production.  So when the food prices spiked in 2008 and hunger rose in the cities, these communities had food reserves.  When the earthquake struck a year ago, they housed, fed and supported hundreds of people who fled the death and destruction in the cities.  Since cholera has broken out, they have prevented deaths by teaching families how to purify water and treat the sick.

Improving rural lives starts with strong local organizations that increase agriculture and food production.  This requires peasant farmers to engage in a way of farming that works for them – sustainable agriculture – as most industrial farming practices and inputs are not appropriate.  Farmers conserve and improve their soil, carry out seed selection to improve local varieties, improve storage to reduce losses to pests, diversify crops to spread risks, and process crops locally to add value. They experiment on their farms to see what works, and then teach successful practices to neighboring families and villages.  All of these activities improve lives and strengthen local initiative, confidence and organization.  In other words, they build Haiti’s economic and environmental foundation through a decentralized, democratic process of citizen participation.

The good news is that there are hundreds of examples of local peasant organizations similar to OPD-8 all over rural Haiti.  They are already creating and spreading this way of sustainable farming and decentralized development.  Many of these organizations are linked to regional and national networks of peasant organizations that coordinate actions and amplify their voices.  For years we have worked to support and strengthen local peasant organizations like these.  This experience leads us, and many others, to believe that within 10 years it is possible for rural Haitians to conserve and improve Haiti’s soils, to once again produce the food and seeds the country needs, and to raise rural incomes from one dollar to five or ten dollars a day.

Haiti needs many big changes to help make this happen:  a legitimate and effective government; a better response to one million people still living in tent camps; and trade and development policies that support rather than undercut national food production.  Many of these challenges are not new.  But Haiti’s six million peasants cannot afford to sit and wait for the solutions to be designed in Port-au-Prince.  Many peasant organizations have been working hard for years to create the communities they envision for themselves and their children.  Haiti’s peasant groups are arguably among the country’s most functional organizations and important assets.  They are an engine for increasing local production and raising rural living standards.  International and national development efforts should invest in them and involve them in decision making to create the broad economic, environmental and political foundation upon which to build the future.

By Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director, Partenariat pour le Développement Local, Haiti, and Steve Brescia, International Director, Groundswell International, Washington, DC

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Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

As the one year anniversary of the terrible January 12 earthquake approaches, many of those who have contributed to Haiti relief and recovery efforts have expressed frustration at the lack of progress.  As much as 20% of Haiti’s total population remains displaced and more than a million people are doing their best to survive in makeshift tent camps.  Now, a cholera epidemic is killing and sickening thousands of Haitians, and the country has just struggled through poorly organized elections!  People ask themselves how this can be when the world has mobilized to help on such a massive scale?  Why hasn’t all of the money donated and pledged been delivered? Is it worth donating to help Haiti?

We would like to provide you with a brief accounting of the money donated to Groundswell and Partnership for Local Development (PLD) to respond to the earthquake emergency:

  • Through November 1 we had raised $375,787 for earthquake response and recovery.
  • All of this money has now been spent on short-term recovery programs, supporting rural families to host over 10,000 people displaced by the January 12 earthquake.
  • 7% of the $375,787 raised was used for Groundswell administration and program support.
  • 3,097 displaced people participated in traditional work groups between February and October 2010, earning a total of $99,894.62 (an average of $32.25/person) through short-term work opportunities focused on rehabilitating productive infrastructure in the villages that were hosting them. They used the money for food, medicine, shelter and to send children back to school.
  • 96 hectares (233 acres) of farmland (representing approximately 1,000 farms) was improved using proven soil conservation techniques.
  • 65 kilometers (40 miles) of rural roads were repaired, providing access to isolated communities.
  • 414 family water filters and 239 community and family latrines were constructed, which together provide safe water or sanitation to some 10,000 people. Participants also received training on essential health and sanitation practices.
  • 13,200 trees were planted to protect critical watershed areas and farms, to reduce erosion and to provide resources for fodder, fuel and construction.
  • 25,694 kilograms (56,646 pounds) of seeds were secured for the planting season. Farmers were able to purchase this seed from local partner organizations at a reasonable price. This was necessary because seed prices skyrocketed after the earthquake and most farmers could not afford them.
  • 146 women affected by the earthquake received small loans to rebuild their businesses.
  • 12 locally run stores were created to sell subsidized basic foods (beans, rice, salt, etc.) and other essential supplies (batteries, basic medicines, etc.) to displaced people and host families, allowing them to get by on their reduced incomes. Subsidies are being gradually removed.
  • 50 displaced families received materials and technical assistance to build shelters.

It is worth mentioning that we are now supporting peasant organizations to respond to the cholera outbreak with education, oral rehydration, water purification and antibiotics.  Community health committees are leading the response locally and coordinating with government health posts where they exist. We have even provided basic support and resources to some of the overstretched health posts.

On December 2nd Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Director, spoke with Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD. Steve asked Cantave if the support is making a difference in Haiti.  He said:

We cannot confirm what is happening with all of the money sent to other organizations.  Almost eleven months after the earthquake, if you ask me if I see any reconstruction process happening in Port-au-Prince, I will answer that we don’t see it.  At the macro level, the government and the United Nations are managing the country, and most of the Haitian people do not feel comfortable with what is happening.   But if you ask me what did Groundswell and PLD do with the money received, I will answer with the reports and numbers we have given, but I will also invite anyone to go to the rural areas to ask the same questions to the local organization leaders.  They will tell you how many seeds they were able to buy for the rainy season.  Many were able to harvest and reimburse local seed banks, and they are now hoping to build more community grain storage silos to have food and seeds for next planting season.… They will tell you how they used it to give people short term jobs, to rebuild roads, to do soil conservation.  At the grassroots level we are building confidence of the people.  Communities are getting more confident in themselves when they plan and carry out activities and see the impact.  Now we are focusing with them on the long term solutions.  We are trying to move away from the emergency response.  Now, responding to cholera needs to be a part of the long term solutions as well.”

Your donations to Groundswell and PLD have been well spent.  But money alone is not what is needed for Haiti to reverse its downward spiral. What is needed is a sustained, people-centered, nation-wide initiative to re-create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development.  Haitians must lead the way.

Groundswell and PLD have proven that locally-led development processes can produce profoundly positive changes on a wide scale in Haiti with relatively little resources. Beginning in 2011 we are launching a three-year initiative to support 20 peasant organizations representing over 345,000 people to create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development. There is hope for Haiti. It’s the Haitians.

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Haiti: From Survival to Sovereignty - A Special Series of Events, September 13 - 15

Haiti: From Survival to Sovereignty - A Series of Events from September 13 - 15

The TransAfrica Forum has invited Cantave Jean-Baptiste to Washington, DC next week to share his perspectives on Haiti. Cantave will be the keynote presenter at Haiti: From Survival to Sovereignty, a special series of events in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. The opening event will be held on Monday, September 13, 2010, 1:00 – 4:00PM at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), 900 Seventh Street, NW, Suite 600.

We also encourage anyone in the area to join Cantave on Monday evening from 6-8PM at Busboys and Poets (located at 2021 14th Street, NW) for the Cabral/Truth Circle: Solidarity with Haiti: From Survival to Dignity and Sovereignty. A Cabral/Truth Circle is a combination of a great film festival and an exciting book club that focuses on the history and political movements of Africa and the African Diaspora. This one will focus exclusively on Haiti and the featured film will be Haiti: Six Months On by Al Jazeera English.

Check out the three-day agenda.

Cantave is the Director of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), a Haitian NGO founded by a team of Haitian colleagues who, since 1995, have collaborated to develop a highly effective capacity building approach to rural development in Haiti. Following the January 12 earthquake, PLD is more deeply committed than ever to rebuilding rural Haiti as a foundation for the revitalization of the entire country. PLD is a founding member of the Groundswell International partnership, and Cantave is a member of Groundswell’s global council, which helps to define strategic plans and implement programs and advocacy strategies.

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Steve and Cantave during March 2010 Haiti visit

Cantave (far right), Steve (third from right), and PLD team during March 2010 post-earthquake monitoring visit.

Steve Brescia: Cantave, what is the current situation in Haiti 6 months after the earthquake?

Cantave Jean-Baptiste: People are still waiting for the government and international organizations to address the challenges and problems created by the earthquake on January 12.  Port-au-Prince remains almost the same …  It will probably take about 10 years to remove the debris of the houses at the rate the government is moving.

SB: What are PLD and Groundswell doing that you see making a positive difference?

CJB: We know that we are making a big difference … We are supporting (nine) peasant organizations to directly manage the programs, and they have expressed that they appreciate the way we are working with them, because we are not imposing how the work should be done in their communities …  The peasant organizations were in charge of assessing the numbers of displaced people in their communities, recruiting them to participate in forming traditional work groups (kombits), and identifying priority activities for job creation projects for the kombits … They also managed other projects like obtaining and distributing seeds to farmers, and setting up micro-credit funds for women … (They) made decisions to benefit as many as possible in their communities.

SB: What is needed in the future to help Haiti recover?

CJB: Haiti need(s) better coordination and planning of the recovery.  And we need the involvement of the people as participants in the (recovery) programs … It is as if those affected by the earthquake are dead, they do not have a voice and other people should think for them.  We really need to rethink how these plans are being done.

Haitian farmers protesting Monsanto seeds.

More than 10,000 Haitian farmers protesting Monsanto seed "donation".

SB: What will PDL and Groundswell do to help the recovery in the next three years?

We will strengthen rural peasant organizations to undertake and lead recovery programs … but also plan to channel more investments to them to strengthen rural families to address the challenges they face … The rural areas have a central role to play in supporting the cities the next few years and beyond.  PDL and Groundswell will play a vital role in supporting the local peasant organizations to produce more and better … We have to strengthen the capacity of the local peasant organizations to grow food, earn income and create jobs in rural areas … The reason there are so many poor people living in cities is because the standard of living is so low in rural communities.

SB: There was a lot of attention recently on Monsanto’s donation of hybrid seeds to Haiti?  What is the problem with donating these hybrid seeds?  What is the best way for Haitian’s to obtain the seeds they need to plant?

CJB: The Monsanto seeds are being distributed in many places in the country … Some farmers have planted them.  Some families have even eaten these seeds, in particular corn seeds!  This is really dangerous as we know these seeds are preserved by toxic pesticides should not be eaten …

Haitian farmers usually save and use their own seeds, but these hybrid seeds cannot be saved to plant again for the next year.  The better alternative is to support and train farmers in selecting their own seeds, and in this way to improve the quality of their seeds.  We also need to train them how to store the seeds, to prevent pests from destroying them, and to prepare the seeds for the rainy season.  In PDL we are working with farmers to do these things, so that they have good seeds stored and available in their own communities when the rains come.

Read the full interview.

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Cantave teaching farmers in Bayone

Cantave teaching farmers in rural Haiti.

Two months after the earthquake it is hard to imagine the future for Port-au-Prince.  About half of the structures have been reduced to rubble, and much of what remains standing needs to be rebuilt.  People are gathering rebar and scrap metal from the wreckage, piling it along the sides of street to create an informal market for resale.  Work crews of women and men in matching t-shirts are beginning to clear mountains of debris with brooms and shovels.  Tents fill sidewalks and lots.  One cannot help but wonder:  How will these people manage, what will they innovate, once the heavy rains soon bring torrents of water and refuse running down Port-au-Prince’s steep hillsides towards the ocean?  On the plane ride back to the U.S. I sat next to an orthopedic surgeon who had just finished a stint volunteering in a clinic.  He said that in many cases it was already too late to reset fractures; he had never seen a population with such fast healing bones.  Any ability to imagine the future arises mainly from the incredible, tenacious spirit of the people – working, selling their wares, laughing, playing soccer in streets, getting by or not getting by.

In the countryside, it is different.  After a week visiting the programs of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), Groundswell’s partner in Haiti, a positive future is easily imagined.  This is true even while rural communities face a history of grinding poverty, while the mountainsides are still scarred from landslides caused by hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and as communities receive a flood of over 600,000 people who have fled the earthquake’s destruction in cities.  A number of Haitians have commented that the country has always been two countries – the “republic of Port-au-Prince” and the rest of “outside” Haiti.  Now there is an opportunity to create one functioning country.

Read Steve’s full report.

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