Unless you’ve been very far away from any media over the past year you know there was a devastating earthquake in Haiti last January. And you may have observed that more than any other story over the past year, even in our ‘fickle’ society, it has had staying power. What about this story has captured our attention and what have we learned over the last year?
A lot has been written and will be written over the coming weeks. Some I have felt were particularly insightful are linked below. Although I would not want to hold myself out in any way as an expert on what has transpired in Haiti over the past year, here are some of my observations from reading reports of those who were more directly involved:
- What helped draw our attention? The earthquake had large, broad and sustained impact that drew a lot of attention initially from celebrities and with it a corresponding media attention. There are no travel restrictions and relatively easy access from the U.S. and celebrities, NGOs, the media and all types of volunteers poured in. J. from Tales from the Hood discusses this further in a series of blogs he wrote. And in some cases the reporters themselves became celebrities.
- While all of the media attention created a number of headaches, it also made possible a number of opportunities for NGOs and others in the international development field. These included:
- Education: The visibility led to many in the public wanting to “do something” and has provided an opportunity for expanded public education efforts such as Good Intentions and #SmartAid on Twitter.
- Fundraising: The media attention combined with new social media tools allowed NGOs to test out new ways of fundraising. Allison Jones writes more about this here: What has Haiti showed us about nonprofits?
- From crisis aid to development: Transition from crisis to sustained development and stability is very difficult even when there is a stable local infrastructure. Without one it is an incredibly complex and time consuming process. As Timo Luege who spent time on behalf of the the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Haiti wrote: “You can’t change poverty in seven months. To change poverty you need to create opportunities. And that requires infrastructure, rule of law, education and jobs. You can’t end poverty with a cheque.”
- The challenges in Haiti were never just about the effects of an earthquake. In evaluating what has been accomplished over the past year, it is important to look at what Haiti was like prior to the earthquake and the challenges that continue in the local political and economic environment. Without a stable government (which includes no building codes, unclear land ownership or land planning, no tax base, etc…), aid can only be a very short term solution. Long term problems require long term solutions.
- What has worked well during the past year interestingly enough appears to build on what we know works well (good practices in international aid and development). Even when dealing on a large scale, ‘tried and tested’ good practices should be followed as much as possible. For example, Partners in Health’s depth of knowledge of the local environment has helped its effectiveness, while there are countless examples of other NGOs that came in without that expertise and have not always fared as well. Hopefully when our collective attention moves away from Haiti (which it will at some point) we will remember what has been learned, and in addressing the next big crisis we will start from a higher base of knowledge and learning. This article talks about some of what could (and perhaps still will) be learned from the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia: “Haiti’s reconstruction lessons are found on the other side of the world”
For those of you who might like to turn your reading and reflection on the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake to action, you might consider being part of The Kenbe Fèm Project
For further information:
“5 Lessons From Haiti Disaster” Paul Farmer of Partners in Health
One year after: Taking stock of the Haitian recovery , Caribbean Blog International
The Year of Surviving in Squalor (The Economist)
Haiti: where aid failed (The Guardian)
Why haven’t NGOs built more shelters in Haiti Some answers: by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Some early thoughts on Haiti by Saundra Schimmelpfennig
Timo Luege SO..How is Haiti these days?
And 15 blog posts reflecting on Haiti 1 year after the earthquake