Haiti Earthquake 2021: Emergency relief and rebuilding

Aug 19, 2021
Haiti is still reeling after getting hit in rapid succession by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake quickly followed by a strong storm. Heavy rains across the region are delaying flights carrying urgent humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable. 

“Our teams on the ground witnessed families laying in the open, without shelter, and unable to obtain a dry place where to stay. Meanwhile, flights to move life-saving items were suspended given to the ill weather caused by tropical storm Grace,” said Marcelo Viscarra, National Director of World Vision Haiti.
A Haitian man stands outside the ruins of what was his home.Feroul Papillon is the father of three children aged 16, 10 and three. He used to live in this house with his family. Today he and his son are trying to recover whatever can be used to rebuild. In the meantime, the family are sleeping on the floor of the local church at night. Photo: Guy Vital-Herne

The earthquake has been followed by constant aftershocks, and so far, the disaster has claimed the lives of more than 2100 people and injured more than12,000. Hundreds of people are still missing. Preliminary estimates show that more than 52,000 homes have been destroyed.

"We are deeply concerned by the limited capacity of attention of the authorities, who have their hands full with the care of the pandemic, and now the hospital centres are flooded with patients injured by the earthquake,” said Viscarra.

As a member of the Humanitarian Coalition, World Vision Canada is appealing for funds to bring urgently needed humanitarian assistance to those impacted by the earthquake.

Climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 in Haiti

The people of Haiti are resilient. But, this disaster is the latest in a string of challenges the people are facing.

Situated in “Hurricane Alley”, Haiti is in a prime location to feel the impact of powerful storms like Hurricane Grace. The warm temperature on the surface of the water in this region of the Atlantic Ocean – about 26 °C or 78.8 °F – is one of the conditions needed for the formation of a hurricane. As the temperatures rise due to human made climate change, storms are increasing in frequency and severity. 

Meanwhile, Haiti has been experiencing civil unrest since July 2018. Protests continue to erupt in cities across the country due to increases in cost of living, government corruption, and high inflation. Gang activity has flourished and the recent assassination of the country’s President on July 7, 2021, adds complexity to this emergency.

The latest health data from the Haitian government has recorded 16,079 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 247 confirmed cases in children under age nine. There are 78,029 suspected cases and 346 deaths. According to the Telegraph, the arrival of the Delta variant has “seen infections climb sharply in the Caribbean nation of 11 million.”

Before the earthquake, hospitals were already full, and Haiti has not yet received any vaccine delivery.

How World Vision is responding to the recent earthquake in Haiti

World Vision has been working in Haiti since 1978, working with children and families in communities to support access to education, health care, livelihoods and more.

World Vision staff were on the ground in Haiti in 2010 when a similar earthquake disaster displaced as many as 1.5 million people. Since 2019, staff have been working with local faith leaders and community leaders to communicate COVID-19 prevention information and distribute personal protective equipment to help keep people safe.  
A Haitian man helps a small child on with a mask.Former sponsored child turned World Vision Development Facilitator, Bernard Alteme teaches children to put on their facemasks and other ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Guy Faubert Vital-Herne

And today, World Vision teams are on the ground assessing the situation and preparing emergency relief supplies for the most vulnerable. Our teams are working to provide support to those affected by the earthquake by: 
  • distributing emergency supplies from warehouses in next-door Dominican Republic,
  • ensuring the availability of clean water and water purifiers to prevent infectious diseases such as cholera and COVID-19,
  • providing tents to shelter people who have lost their homes and are exposed to the elements,
  • providing primary food assistance to families, prioritizing those with children; and
  • assessing the needs of children to prepare emotional and psychosocial protection for vulnerable girls and boys.

Remembering the 2010 earthquake

For Crystal Penner, program lead for World Vision Canada, the news of the earthquake brought a cascade of memories from January 12, 2010, when she was leading a workshop in Haiti. On that day, another devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the area surrounding the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 300,000 people. 

a Canadian woman looks at the camera, rubble from collapsed buildings behind her.
Crystal Penner was in Haiti working with World Vision in 2010 when a devasting  7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 300,000 people and displaced more than 1.5 million more. Photo: courtesty of Crystal Penner

Ruined homes on a hillside in Haiti.Homes in ruins on a hillside in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince. This image, taken in 2010, is strikingly similar to the destruction wrought by the latest earthquake to hit Haiti. Photo: Stephen Matthews

“All the memories came flooding back of the chaos, the pain of those who lost their people, their homes, their livelihoods. And all the hard work that has since gone into recovering from that event,” she recalls.  

The damage was vast, the work was endless, and huge numbers of people needed support – support for everything – water, food, shelter. 

“Everything was in short supply in the initial weeks of the response,” says Penner. “But it was also amazing to see how quickly supplies started coming in.”

Despite suffering losses of their own, many World Vision Haiti staff returned to work immediately, knowing their neighbours would need help.

Penner was able to support World Vision Haiti teams distributing essential life-saving goods to those impacted by the earthquake. A memory that stands out to her during that time was when their teams distributed to those who became disabled due to an injury sustained in the earthquake. 

Those rendered disabled by the earthquake had missed out on initial distributions because they were hospitalized or because they didn’t have anyone to access emergency supplies for them. So, at this target distribution, they were provided with sleeping mats and other essential household goods.   

“At that moment, I was so very proud of World Vision for seeing a gap and filling that particular need,” says Penner. 

Finding hope in unexpected places

The psychological impact of events like these remains with those who experienced it long after the aftershocks subside. Providing psychosocial support — particularly for children — is a crucial part of our work, Penner asserts. Child Friendly Spaces are vital beacons of safety where children can begin to process their experiences and be children again. 
A group of Haitian children play soccer outside.Following the earthquake in 2010, children enjoyed an afternoon of games, songs, and lessons at the Child Friendly Space at St. Marie Therese IDP camp for Haiti earthquake victims near Port-au-Prince. World Vision Haiti will set up new Child Friendly Spaces to support the psychosocial needs of children impacted by this latest earthquake. Photo: Jon Warren

As for hope, Penner says it’s present within the people. 

“I often have to tell myself to keep my eyes open for it to show in unexpected places,” says Penner. “In 2010, it was meeting people who were part of the earthquake recovery program. One young single mom I met told me she had hope that she would be able to figure out the next steps because she had a place to sleep that night and her children were safe.”

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