The Forgotten Faces of the Nepal Earthquake

When Nepal shook more than a year ago, the world quickly responded with an outpouring of aid and support. In the aftermath of the disaster, a dark and sinister threat has been lurking beneath the rubble, just waiting to pounce.

As thousands of livelihoods lay in ruins, and humanitarian organizations scrambled to save lives and rebuild flattened communities, opportunity knocked for evil men. Fueled by a growing demand for child labor in nearby countries and fed by the perverse desires of a growing sex industry, these men had one goal—to exploit the desperation of local Nepali families.

Hoping to build a better life for their children, unsuspecting moms and dads are lured with false promises and quickly fall into the debt of evil men. With no way to repay, women and young girls are being trafficked across poorly patrolled borders. And without anyone to police, or prevent this horrific injustice they are being abused, exploited, and completely forgotten.

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In the most remote Nepali villages, young women and girls are at great risk of being trafficked across open borders.

World Concern has been active in Nepal ever since the earthquake hit, working tirelessly with the local church to rebuild communities and reach the most vulnerable with livelihood support, and income generation opportunities.

Recognizing that trafficking is a threat in the poorest Nepali villages, World Concern is actively leveraging its Child Protection experts to provide in-country training. The aim is to raise awareness of the problem, and begin mobilizing a network of local partners to seek out and stop the threat of trafficking in high risk communities.

“There is a huge opportunity to prevent human trafficking in Nepal,” says Selina Prem Kumar, World Concern’s Sri Lanka Country Director who is in Nepal training church and community leaders to prevent trafficking. “Women and children are being trafficked into forced labor and as sex workers into neighboring countries with no border patrols.”

Having established a comprehensive child protection program after the bloody Sri Lankan civil war, Selina is now taking what’s she’s learned and accomplished across Southeast Asia, and is well aware of the dangers families face in the wake of an emergency.

The communities she’s visiting are within a few miles of the India border, where no visas are required to cross, making it an extremely high risk area.

DSC_0172Braving heavy rains, flooding and mountain road closures due to mudslides, Selina and her team traveled close to the Indian border, and into one of the trafficking ‘hot-zones’ to conduct the workshops. Proof that World Concern truly does go beyond the end of the road to serve those in need.

Expectant for change and eager to become more active in fighting trafficking in their communities, more than 40 volunteers from local churches, schools, and human rights groups attended.

“People walked through the jungles to get here,” Selina says. “Some traveled for over 7 hours—the landslides and floods turning what would have been a 3-hour journey into a day long trek.”

While there is much to do in Nepal, Selina is hopeful, “There is a lot of meaningful and deep possibilities in Nepal. We will continue working to train and mobilize border villages, churches, and organizations to prevent human trafficking.”

Even in the darkness, there is always an opportunity to shine light, and the work happening in Nepal is proof that there’s always hope for a brighter future.

Remembering Nepal

It’s been a year since the earth shook in Nepal.

A little before noon on Saturday, April 25, a huge chunk of rock sitting miles below the busy Nepalese villages moved, and unleashed a 7.8 magnitude shock wave that tore through the Kathmandu Valley.

The quake was shallow. And so as the giant rock shifted, the rocky ground above splintered violently and threw tons of debris onto the lowland communities. Entire villages were destroyed in just minutes. Homes became rubble. Infrastructure toppled. Cropland ruined. Livelihoods lost. And life in Nepal was forever changed.

Over 8,000 people were killed that day. Another 21,000 severely injured. Everyone affected. Within hours, the nation of Nepal had collectively called for help. And with your help, World Concern answered.

Homes were in ruins, leaving families homeless and exposed.
Homes were in ruins, leaving families homeless and exposed.

In the days that followed this tragic event, you joined with thousands of others to reach out and lend support to World Concern’s emergency response in the region. It was your swift action that kept hope alive for countless desperate, and homeless families.

Your gifts were immediately used to provide emergency assistance to the hardest hit areas. These essentials literally meant the difference between life and death. The destroyed villages were difficult to reach, with winding mountain roads blocked by fallen rocks. But driven on by your prayers and the need in each village, rescue teams pushed on and rapidly distributed food, water, and shelter materials to hungry and frightened families.

Excited families rush to World Concern distribution points, grateful for your help when they needed it the most.
Excited families rush to World Concern distribution points, grateful for your help when they needed it the most.

As the months passed, and many organizations had long since left, World Concern remained committed to the Nepalese people, and the rebuilding process. But it was only thanks to you that this was possible. And on the anniversary of this disaster, your gifts have helped a staggering 24,276 people.

“I am so thankful for the people that joined us in supporting the recovery efforts,” says Chris Sheach, World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response. “Donations were made immediately, and our partnerships across the United States and Canada, and in Nepal, enabled a quick response.”

Today, those same donations are empowering each community to grow and work together with local churches to restore the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the families affected.

“It’s amazing to work with the local church in Nepal, and helping them be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors.” Chris says. One woman even started attending church for the first time after the church reached out to her.

Nirmala and her husband were so blessed by your support that they started going to church!

Anita is a young mother that has benefited from this relationship. She watched as her home crumbled, then sheltered with her family under a thin piece of plastic until supported your gifts, the local church, provided her with materials to build a metal shelter. It was temporary, but it kept them safe, and protected from the rain and wind.

Anita was given shelter materials to rebuild after the earthquake.
Anita was given shelter materials to rebuild after the earthquake.

“We thank God, and the church for providing,” Anita exclaimed.

As we remember the day the earth shook in Nepal, we thank you for helping survivors like Anita write a new, and hopeful story. World Concern continues to serve in Nepal and remains committed to working with our Nepalese partners in building the resilience of their people.

 

Beyond the End of the Road in Nepal

It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.

This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.

This Jeep took us to the end of the road...and beyond.
This Jeep took us to the end of the road…and beyond.

As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.

We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.

While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.
While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.

We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.

As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.

The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.

Walking the road ahead to see if our Jeep would even make it through.
The view from the Jeep window, shows just one of the dozens of switchbacks we’d encounter.

We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.

By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.

The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!

And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.

While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.

In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.

Like any developing nation after disaster, Haiti has progressed “piti piti” (little by little)

After living in Haiti for two years where I worked with World Concern, I returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago. Aside from getting used to much colder weather and way too many cereal options at the grocery store, I have been attempting to answer, as best as possible, all kinds of questions about Haiti.

Destruction after the earthquake shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.
Destruction after the earthquake shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.

One of the most common questions has been how the country is doing since the 2010 earthquake—Haiti’s strongest in two centuries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. This tells me that perhaps not everyone has forgotten about Haiti and that fateful day on January 12, 2010.

However it’s a challenge to answer that question. It’s a big question and I feel a burden to answer accurately and completely, but at the same time I realize most people are not asking for a lecture.

As someone who has lived in Haiti, I can tell you that it is a wonderful place full of color and life. Most of all, it is my friends there and the dozens of others I’ve met through my work with World Concern that I remember. These faces are what stand out in my mind when someone asks how Haiti is doing and each face is a beautiful creation of God with a distinct story. Everyone has a story and each is unique. And with the stories of healing and restoration have come ones of difficulty and loss.

World Concern has been serving small business owners, like Emilienne, by providing loans and training since 1998.
World Concern has been serving small business owners, like Emilienne, by providing loans and training since 1998.

The recovery process and transition to long-term development has been slow and difficult at times, but positive things have happened in the past five years. But there are major chronic issues that persist which keep people from living healthy and productive lives. This is the reality. Is Haiti progressing? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. Does Haiti face challenges? Also yes.

There are more people coming to Haiti as tourists and the country’s image is slowly improving, roads are being rebuilt with many paved for the first time, and the number of homeless people has fallen to less than 100,000 out of the 1.5 million initially without a home following the earthquake.

A road under construction in Haiti.
A road under construction in Haiti.

And what about the struggles? Cholera, which was first introduced in Haiti in October 2010, is on the rise again, and the water and sanitation infrastructure needed to defeat it is missing. Too many families are not able to get enough food with 2.6 million people food insecure as of July and a political crisis looms as long overdue elections in the country are yet to be held. And Haiti remains vulnerable to drought, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.

The earthquake highlighted the need to focus on helping communities become better prepared and less vulnerable. This is an area that the government and many organizations, including World Concern, have chosen to invest in since 2010 which is encouraging. A community that is more able to cope with a crisis on their own is one that will be more protected and have less loss of life.

Volunteers take part in a disaster simulation to learn how to be prepared and respond in an emergency.
Volunteers take part in a disaster simulation to learn how to be prepared and respond in an emergency.

At World Concern we have worked to train local first responders, build community shelters, establish early warning systems, and introduce drought resistant seeds to farmers. Our goal is to see communities empowered, resilient and able to stand on their own. We’re grateful for significant progress in this area.

Haitian Creole, the national language of Haiti, has lots of proverbs or sayings—one thing that makes the language so rich and beautiful. There is a common proverb that says “Piti piti wazo fè nich,” which means “Little by little a bird makes its nest.”

So how is Haiti now? How has the country moved forward? Well, things are better and there is a lot of hope, but piti piti wazo fè nich.

Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction Saves Lives

My dad used to always say, “It’s better to build a guardrail on a curve than a hospital at the bottom of the hill.” As an adult, I’ve come to understand that wisdom of his words. We all want to rescue someone after they’re hurt. But isn’t it better to protect them from harm in the first place?

Today, as the president of World Concern, I have an opportunity to put my dad’s wisdom into practice. Our focus is on disaster risk reduction: equipping vulnerable communities for a disaster before it happens, and taking practical steps to minimize its destructive impact.

We work to provide infrastructure within and around a community to protect its residents from disaster. This is far better than repeatedly helping them rebuild… and grieving with families who have lost loved ones in a devastating earthquake or hurricane.

Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti's northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.
Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti’s northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.

Mercila’s story is a great example of how communities can protect themselves.

“When there is flooding, the houses fill with water and people lose many things. When there is a hurricane… houses are destroyed,” said Mercila, a young mom who lives in Haiti. Hurricane season comes every year, and her village’s precarious location along Haiti’s northern coast leaves the entire community vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.

Her one-year-old son’s safety weighs heavily on her mind. “My dream for my son is to let him grow up in Anse-á-Foleur where disaster will not impact our town again.”

Mercila's village of Anse-a-Foleur has a new storm shelter where families can go to stay safe when the next hurricane comes.
Mercila’s village has a new storm shelter where families can stay safe during a hurricane.

World Concern is taking action to keep everyone in Anse-á-Foleur safe. We’ve trained Mercila as an emergency responder for her village. Now, she is teaching her entire community, passing along all the disaster preparedness training she’s received.

The community was equipped to establish an early warning system to alert villagers of coming danger, and built rock walls along the river to prevent flooding. They also constructed a storm shelter, so families will have a safe place to go when a hurricane is near.

“Because of the activities of World Concern, Anse-á-Foleur has become a new town,” Mercila proclaimed. “We are not afraid about anything.”

Mercila no longer fears disaster,

but many others in vulnerable communities are living in the path of destruction. Families in Bangladesh, for example, know that the month of May brings another cyclone season… and certain destruction. Together, we can help them prepare and survive.

Kanomrani's family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.
Kanomrani’s family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.

World Concern will always be there for those who are suffering after disaster. But it’s a wise and critical investment to protect vulnerable moms, dads, and little ones from future disasters.

You can help protect them. Give online at www.worldconcern.org/savelives  

 

Remembering January 12, 2010

Four years ago today the ground in and around Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, shook powerfully.  Lasting approximately 30 seconds, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake would take the lives of approximately 220,000 people and change the lives of those who survived forever.

January 12, 2010 is a day that remains etched in the minds of many Haitians.  It is hard to find someone who was not affected by the goudou goudou—the colloquial name for the earthquake in Haitian Creole, which refers to the sound the tremors made.  As a colleague of mine in Haiti once said, “We were all victims of the earthquake.”

30 seconds of trembling was enough to pancake this school building
30 seconds of trembling was enough to pancake this school building

While this tragedy has obviously caused immense pain and suffering there are stories of fortitude, sacrifice and healing from the past four years.  Although we cannot mention every one, here are three from the World Concern family that remind us that all is not lost.

Elias and Louis in the doorway of their house
Elias and Louis in the doorway of their house

Elias and Louis
Elias and Louis are a couple in their late fifties who are both retired teachers and have a large family of twelve.  Following the earthquake World Concern helped them rebuild their home.  “It is a gift from God,” said Elias. “After the earthquake, first God saved us, then World Concern helped us. God bless you.”  Read full story here.

Jonathan handing over the check to Dave Eller, World Concern President at the time
Jonathan handing over the check to Dave Eller, World Concern President at the time

Jonathan’s compassion

After seeing the devastation caused by the earthquake on television, Jonathan, then a six year old in kindergarten, wanted to help.  When his mom suggested donating money, he dumped out all $6.37 from his piggy bank to contribute to the relief effort.  Then he and hundreds of classmates from school went on to raise an additional $3,641.  “I hope this money goes to replace stuff to make new homes,” said Jonathan.  Read full story here.

 

 

Berlin Smile
Jean Berlin and his contagious smile

Saved to serve people
Former World Concern staff member Jean Berlin narrowly escaped the earthquake as the school building he was teaching in collapsed soon after he walked outside.  He is convinced that he was spared for a reason.  “Jesus saved me to serve people,” he said.  Read full story here.

God has showed us that he is faithful and continues to heal and transform amidst an awful and incomprehensible disaster.  Today we remember and honor the lives that were lost and those who survived and continue to move forward one day at a time.

The road ahead for Haiti is long and challenges remain.  However Haiti has brighter days to come and World Concern is committed to walking on this road as long as it takes.  Please continue to pray for Haiti in this new year and thank you for your partnership.

Saved to Serve People

Jean Berlin knows that his life was spared during the Haiti earthquake in 2010 for a reason. And that reason is to serve others. In honor of World Humanitarian Day, we wanted to share his amazing story of a life dedicated to serving people.

A math and physics teacher, Jean Berlin was teaching in a 5th floor university classroom in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. Just before the earthquake hit, he got what he describes as “a bad feeling inside.”

“I felt something would happen,” he recalled.

He left the building, excusing himself from his students and explaining that he wasn’t feeling well.

Haiti earthquake - collapsed building
A building in Port-au-Prince that collapsed during the January 2010 earthquake.

Moments later, when the shaking started, Berlin was confused. He’d never experienced an earthquake before. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, the school was gone. The building had collapsed and everyone inside was dead.

“I said, ‘Oh my God what happened?’” Berlin ran home to check on his two sisters. Thankfully, both had survived the earthquake.

He’ll never forget that day when his city went dark. “It was a very, very bad time in Haiti,” he said. “After I wondered, ‘God why didn’t you give me the chance to ask my friends to come out too?’”

Berlin still has no answer as to why so many died that day, but he survived. All he knows is that he is here for a reason.

“Jesus saved me to serve people,” he says with confidence.

Although Berlin loved teaching, he now dedicates his life to helping protect vulnerable families and communities in Haiti from future disasters, like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.  As a project manager for World Concern’s Disaster Risk Reduction program in Port-de-Paix, Berlin teaches people safe building practices, disaster preparedness, and how to keep their families safe in a disaster. He says he never wants to see such massive, preventable loss of life again.

Jean Berlin
Jean Berlin survived the Haiti earthquake. He believes it was so that he could serve others as a humanitarian and help prevent future disasters.

“If something happens in Port-de-Paix one day, now we won’t have as many victims,” he explains. “This is one way I can serve people.”

Berlin’s humanitarian service is his life mission, and the mission of World Concern.

“I can say that it is very, very important to serve people because, as Christians, we have to do what Jesus has done. Because Jesus himself, he served people too. As a Christian organization, it is our very special mission to serve people.”

We at World Concern humbly salute Jean Berlin as a dedicated humanitarian who is fulfilling his calling by serving others and protecting human life.

Listen to Jean Berlin say, in his own words, why he believes his life was spared so that he could help protect others.

[vimeo 58994100]

 

“The road is long; don’t kill the dog”

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response. He’s blogging from Haiti on the third anniversary of the earthquake.

Haiti earthquake damage
One of the 200,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings that were destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

It was three years ago today that a 7.0 earthquake devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We in the humanitarian community were shocked at the severity of this disaster. Almost 3.5 million people were affected by the earthquake, close to a quarter of a million died, and 2.3 million people were left homeless. The estimated $7.8 billion loss is equivalent to 15 months of Haiti’s GDP. All this in a country where the average family’s annual income is $660, 58% of the population lacks access to clean water, and more than half of the children are under-nourished.

This was a disaster decades in the making, and it’s certainly not going to be an easy fix.

I’ve spent the last week in Haiti, looking at some of the work World Concern has done, and working with our staff here in Haiti to develop the way forward. Coming back every few months, as I have for the last three years, I have seen continued progress and constant change. World Concern built more than 2,000 temporary shelters in the first 18 months after the earthquake, and this week I was hard pressed to find one—not because they’ve deteriorated, but because people are going beyond their temporary situation, improving and rebuilding their homes, moving along the road to the future.

This does not mean that it has been easy. Recent news articles emphasize the long road to recovery, filled with potholes, roadblocks and detours. A road complicated by mismanagement and conflicting priorities.

When I mentioned the long road to my Haitian colleagues, they laughed and told me they know the road is long. In fact, they explained, there is a Haitian proverb, “Chemen lwen, pa touye chen,” which means, “The road is long; don’t kill the dog.”

The dog in Haiti is a symbol of resilience and perseverance. If you’ve been to Haiti you know why. Stray dogs are often stepped on, starved, and rejected, but they just keep surviving. As it was explained to me, “A dog just keeps walking and walking, and it always gets where it’s going.” Haitians don’t expect the road to recovery to be a sprint, but rather a marathon. They will keep moving forward, step by step, until they reach their destination. And we plan to walk this road with them.

T-shelter in Haiti
A mom washes clothes in her transitional shelter World Concern built after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Many families have turned these into permanent homes by making long-term improvements to the structures.

World Concern is shifting our focus from disaster response work in Haiti, as we continue to take steps along the road. Disasters are too common in a country with less than 2% forest cover, poor sanitation infrastructure, and unsafe building practices. Regular tropical storms cause flooding, soil erosion, landslides and collapsed buildings on a yearly basis.

With the help of our donors, World Concern engages communities in reducing their risk to these disasters. Earthquake, tsunami and hurricane preparedness is being taught in schools, and spread through community groups. Early warning systems, flood control, and improved sanitation systems are being established. Schools and churches designated as evacuation centers are being retrofitted to ensure their stability. Local disaster response committees continue to plan, prepare, and train their communities.

Building resilient communities enables Haitians to continue to persevere—and to move beyond their current vulnerability. The earthquake was a significant setback on the road to progress. some estimate that 10 years of development were lost. We want to ensure that, even if natural disasters happen, they are not as debilitating.

The road may be long, but we must continue to walk it, no matter how long it takes. I am grateful for donors that continue to support World Concern and the people of Haiti on the road to resiliency.

You can help protect vulnerable families from disasters and help them prepare: www.worldconcern.org/preventdisaster.

Let’s focus concern on Haiti, where Isaac threatens vulnerable families

My mouth dropped open when I read the words of ABC News reporter Amy Bingham in an article about the potential effect Tropical Storm Isaac could have on the city of Tampa as the Republican National Convention kicks off there on Monday. Most of the commenters on news stories like this made fun of the fact a storm was bearing down on a group of Republicans.

A family in the southern mountains of Haiti
Nadѐge Moise and her family live in a rural village in the mountains of Southern Haiti, an area that has been severely damaged by hurricanes. Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to bring 12-20 inches of rain to this area this weekend.

But my shock was over the complete lack of regard for the people of Haiti who are in real danger.

“Under the best case scenario, the storm could smash into the mountains of Haiti … then the weakened storm could sweep over the Bahamas and swirl off the east coast of Florida … missing Tampa…” wrote Bingham.

Seriously? A storm smashing into the mountains of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is the “best case scenario”?

I was just in those mountains of Southern Haiti in June. There are families and communities in those mountains who are extremely vulnerable to storms like this. They all talked of the terrible flooding that overtook their homes and villages in 2008 when four hurricanes hit Haiti. They are terrified of disasters, and because of their remote rural location in these mountains, most of them probably don’t even know another storm is coming their way.

I was glad today to see NBC News and a few others focusing on the danger to Haiti. If Isaac continues on its current path and strengthens into a hurricane, it will likely cause much damage to the homes and lives of the millions of people who live in Haiti.

World Concern is preparing staff members in Haiti and gathering emergency supplies to respond.

Kids near a canal in Southern Haiti.
Children in Côtes-de-Fer, a village near Bainet, along the southern coast of Haiti, stand near a canal built by World Concern in 2010. The canal is part of a disaster risk reduction project and is designed to direct rainwater away from homes and into the ocean.

We’ve also been working to reduce the risk to communities in this region, like Côtes-de-Fer, a village near Bainet, along the southern coast of Haiti. We worked with community members to build a canal in 2010 that is designed to direct large amounts of rainwater away from homes and into the ocean.

“The water used to flood my house,” said Dieudonné Felix, who lives in Côtes-de-Fer. “The last time it rained, the rainwater went straight to the sea. This is a big improvement.”

But even communities with canals are at risk because Isaac is expected to dump more than 12 inches of rain—possibly up to 20 inches—on Haiti today and tomorrow.

Please join me in praying for the people of Haiti, World Concern staff and others who work in this area, and all who will be affected by this storm.

Learn more about our disaster response work, and partner with us to bring immediate help to families in need.

Dream of safe housing in Haiti is closer than before earthquake

In response to Deborah Sontag’s investigative report on the state of housing for earthquake survivors in Haiti, I wanted to expound on why building permanent homes is so challenging and revisit the idea of transitional shelters (T-shelters) and repairing damaged homes as ways to provide shelter for the homeless after a disaster.

Inside a T-shelter in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Twelve extended family members live in this home, two T-shelters built side-by-side, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The home has a concrete foundation, wood walls on the upper half and a metal roof.

In countries like Haiti, between one-third and one-half of the urban population lives in informal slums, essentially trespassing on government or private property. Many of these shelters are well below the minimum humanitarian standards to which aid agencies adhere. While working in informal settlements in Port-au-Prince, World Concern found that many people preferred the cramped quarters of a one-room shelter for large, extended families over the option of moving out of the city, away from jobs, transit and markets. In other words, moving people to outlying areas where large pieces of land might be developed for housing is not the best solution.

T-shelters are intended to last three years, with the understanding that a permanent housing solution will not be available before that time. It is important to note that the alternative is replacement tents every six months, which would cost approximately the same amount over the same time.

World Concern was one of several agencies that focused our work on repairing more than 2,000 damaged “yellow”-coded houses. Where houses could not be repaired, World Concern developed T-shelters with a permanent foundation, providing homeowners with a solid beginning on which they could build earthquake resistant housing within their own means.

An independent report prepared for USAID concluded that, of the 894,588 people who fled to camps in the days after the earthquake, more than 85% had returned to their homes by May 2011. This report concluded that there are many in the camps who are “hoping to take advantage of the aid; not necessarily renters.” This same study showed that yellow and green houses had a return rate of more than 95%, including renters.

One of the key contributions of foreign aid was the removal of more than 5 million cubic meters of rubble from the streets, walkways and private properties of Port-au-Prince. More than 50% of homes would not have been accessible without this work, and the cleared roads have enabled construction crews to rebuild more quickly.

Inside a repaired home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
An earthquake victim stands inside his home, which was yellow-coded after the earthquake. World Concern repaired the damage so he could move back in safely.

Demolition of condemned buildings is not only expensive, but it’s a time consuming process. Many of these buildings are multi-story rental units or larger homes of wealthy families. Some of the latter have left town or even left the country, leaving a condemned building with no hope for new opportunities. Other landowners want the demolition to occur, but are not willing to accept single family units on their plot of land, preferring rather to wait until they have enough funds to replace the multi-story complex they once had.  Land rights are an important part of democratic rule of law. If a former landlord refuses to rebuild, or to accept the affordable housing solutions offered by aid agencies, that is their prerogative.

It also takes time to work with the government to implement aid. Before the earthquake, Haiti did not have an urban redevelopment plan, so agencies have worked with the government to ensure an enforceable strategy is in place, rather than willy-nilly construction which creates a new hazard for the future. This strategy, while slow, is seen as the only way to prevent the cycle of calamity repeating itself again.

After the 2004 earthquake in Banda Aceh, it took more than five years to replace 140,000 homes. After two years, Port-au-Prince is only just shy of the same average rate of construction, with most of the heavy lifting already done.

While there is much more to do, the dream of safe housing is much closer for most Haitians than it was before the tragic events of 2010.