Transforming Haiti’s tragedy


Wednesday January 12 2011 marks one year since Haiti’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake shattered lives, devastated communities and sent a wave of shock around the world.

Like the streets of Port-au-Prince, the road to recovery has been littered with obstacles, but one year on the Caritas network is still determined to chart a course from rubble to reconstruction.

“In the wake of unprecedented destruction, and in the midst of formidable obstacles such as hurricanes, floods, the outbreak of cholera, political instability, and violence, the Caritas network has provided hope to more than 1 million people marginalised by January’s devastation," Caritas Australia’s CEO Jack de Groot said.

“Over the past few months, hygiene promotion, training and infrastructure for more than 50,000 people have taken precedence in our response as we work to contain the deadly Cholera epidemic. But even as we ramp up the response to deliver hundreds of new latrines and hygiene facilities each month, our experienced and dedicated partners continue to create genuine opportunities at the grass-roots for renewal and lasting change.

“Our partners have been instrumental in the mass construction of temporary shelters; reunification of families; protection of vulnerable women and children; income generation and education; and of course in the provision of community-based medical services and hygiene facilities.”

Renewing a city 'literally in collapse'

Over the course of 2010, Australians generously contributed more than $4.3 million towards Caritas Australia’s Haiti Emergency Appeal.

In partnership with in-country Caritas agencies, this support has helped to reach more than one million people with emergency food aid; resettle families on their land and provide transitional shelter for almost 300,000 people; reunite more than 250 children with their families; provide cash-for-work and livelihood opportunities for hundreds of thousands; and ensure the dignity and protection of more than 20,000 vulnerable women and children.

With more than one million people still living in camps, building and repairing houses; training work forces in the construction sector; and providing building materials present the largest ongoing challenge.

“There are almost 20 million cubic metres of rubble yet to be removed from the streets of Port-au-Prince; for Caritas, such a mammoth clean-up presents a unique opportunity to renew a city literally in collapse," Mr de Groot said.

"Since mid 2010, Caritas Australia has been supporting a pilot permanent housing project in Haiti, and as we enter the second year of reconstruction our partners have their sights firmly set on reusing rubble in new construction.”

Steadfast solidarity

To date the Caritas network has facilitated the reuse of more than 790 tonnes of rubble, crushed and recycled to produce the foundations of transitional shelters.

As permanent housing becomes a key priority across the country, Caritas partners will enable local workers to turn rubble into blocks for the construction of new, quake-resistant housing.

In addition to the US $14 million the Caritas network invested in the three months following the earthquake, the confederation will invest more than $217 million by May 2011. The ongoing construction of transitional and permanent housing constitutes more than one third of this pledge, closely followed by Health and Nutrition.

“The past year has subjected the people of Haiti to unimaginable and recurring devastation and loss. At times, humanitarian efforts have perhaps seemed in vain, as further natural disasters, the outbreak of cholera and political instability have added challenges on top of challenges," Mr de Groot said.

“But there is no doubt our steadfast solidarity with the millions rendered homeless, vulnerable and impoverished by the earthquake has already enabled the people of Haiti to eat, to heal, to reunite with family, to attend school, to generate income, to feel secure and above all, to reaffirm their inherent dignity and human spirit.”

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