Ireland’s Response to Haiti Earthquake – Facts, Figures and Challenges
On 12 January 2010, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. The quake killed over 250,000 people and destroyed much of the country’s capital, Port au Prince, where nearly 40% of the nation’s population lived.
The earthquake levelled houses, hospitals, health centres, schools, the parliament and many other governmental buildings, as well as the United Nations headquarters in the desperately poor country.
An estimated 3 million were directly or indirectly affected, 300,000 injured and 1.5million left homeless.
Ireland responded quickly in an effort to save lives and alleviate suffering, with both non-governmental aid agencies and the government’s development arm, Irish Aid, contributing to the earthquake response.
Overall, Ireland’s financial contribution to the Haiti (2010) earthquake response has topped €37.3 million, between NGOs’ fundraising from the public and other sources (€28.7m), and Irish Aid funding of €8.6 million which forms part of an overall €13 million pledge for the 2010-2012 period.
The funding received by Irish NGOs was used in the immediate aftermath to assist affected people with emergency shelter and non-food items (including such items as blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, buckets, etc), water, sanitation and food aid. Also involved in that immediate stage were activities to support health services, food aid and emergency education. (see also these graphs)
As the weeks moved into months, there came more of a spread in Irish NGOs’ activities – with some still concentrating on shelter, water, sanitation, health and so on, but others also working more on agriculture and livelihoods, emergency education, food and nutrition, and protection of vulnerable people (such as unaccompanied children and disabled people, for instance).
It’s impossible here to capture all the activities and impact of Ireland’s aid agencies in Haiti, but you can see a selection of much more detailed activity reports here.
What can be said is that the generous Irish public, alongside with Government money allocated through Irish Aid, contributed to saving lives, reducing suffering and disease, and at least starting to get people and communities back on their feet throughout 2010 – though that work will need to evolve and continue for years to come.
The Haiti response also highlights the importance of Ireland’s official aid programme and overseas aid budget because, without that, Irish Aid would not have been able to rapidly kick in with its support. Having an Emergency & Recovery budget and dedicated staff, it could swing into action through its standby Rapid Response Corps, support for food aid and disease control, helping restart government operations, and grant-aiding aid agencies (including Irish NGOs) to do work on child protection, water and sanitation, rubble clearance and environmental safety, etc.
The scale of logistical problems, communications challenges and rubble to be removed, in addition to security worries, were a major headache in the early stages of the response.
Coordination of all the aid agencies and activities was also a major challenge, and not without its difficulties. This certainly was not helped by the destruction of the UN headquarters, the virtual destruction of a fairly weak government and the sheer number of aid agencies and other (government, military) actors involved, and, as ever, there will be lessons to be learned..
But the huge scale and depth of humanitarian need arising from the earthquake presented the biggest difficulty for aid agencies, and the size of that challenge is still enormous. When that is coupled with the longer term development needs of the Haitian population, most of whom live in chronic poverty, the scale of the response still required (see this Haiti Government document from March 2010) – and the need for commitment and resources over many years: some say the recovery will be a minimum of 10 years – become very apparent.
Many other challenges, obstacles and difficulties also presented themselves – there have been some voices decrying the international response in strong terms – and the lessons will be added to the learning from the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Pakistan earthquake and other disasters in an effort to improve future responses.
But also, in the first 6 months alone, some 4 million people received food assistance, 1.5 million people got emergency shelter materials, safe water was made available to 1.2 million people, and 1 million people benefited from cash-for-work programmes.
That’s the vital, life-saving and life-enhancing importance of this work – and we shouldn’t lose sight of it. Nor should we lose sight of the Irish contribution to that effort, from both NGOs and Government.
Irish Aid support to Haiti for 2010-2011
Responding to a question by Kevin Humphreys TD on the amount Ireland had actually given to Haiti since the earthquake, Minister of state for Trade and Development Cooperation, Jan O’Sullivan, said that Ireland pledged funding of €13 million for the period 2010-12 at the Haiti Donor Conference that was held in New York in March 2010. To date (29 November 2011), she added, €11.5 million of this has been committed and it is intended that the entire pledge will be met by early 2012.