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Progress in Haiti After the Earthquake

by Melissa Crutchfield and Thomas Dwyer

Josny Mehu of the United Methodist Committee on Relief says these schoolrooms built by UMCOR will help educate some 900 students a day at Camp Corail.
Josny Mehu of the United Methodist Committee on Relief says these schoolrooms built by UMCOR will help educate some 900 students a day at Camp Corail.
Image by: Mike DuBose/UMNS
Source: New World Outlook
Students attend class in new temporary classrooms at the Mellier Primary School, next door to the Methodist church in Mellier, Haiti.
Students attend class in new temporary classrooms at the Mellier Primary School, next door to the Methodist church in Mellier, Haiti.
Image by: Mike DuBose/UMNS
Source: New World Outlook

From the May-June 2011 Issue of New World Outlook

Melissa Crutchfield, assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response at the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Thomas Dwyer, executive director of UMCOR NGO, answered some of the more difficult questions and concerns about earthquake relief in Haiti during an information session in January. What follows are their thoughts on the progress made in Haiti since January 12, 2010, when the earthquake struck.

Haiti's Political Climate

Melissa Crutchfield: Presidential elections were held in Haiti in November 2010, but the top three candidates were contested. There were political tensions throughout December. The term of President Rene Preval officially ended on February 7, but his term has been extended a few months until a run-off election is held to determine his successor.

It is a very complicated situation and there hasn't yet been a definite resolution. Progress hasn't been facilitated for some of the aid projects, particularly anything that has to be coordinated with the government.

Thomas Dwyer: There are elements of social instability within Haiti but also a great need for reconstruction. Many people don't realize that the government has lost a significant amount of its capacity. Officially, 17 percent of the government work force was lost in the earthquake, but some say it was more. I attended meetings in Washington, DC, around the one-year anniversary of Haiti's earthquake. The need to build up the leadership of Haiti was stressed. The international community wants Haiti to be built up by Haitians for Haitians.

The United Nations' cluster system helps all agencies coordinate their work in areas such as shelter, education, or health. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been participating with other agencies in all these areas. A Haitian government commission has to review and approve projects before we can move forward. It has taken a while to get that organized and functioning. Given the lack of government leadership, project proposals have been held up while awaiting approval.

How are we going to deal with rebuilding and with the 1.3 million people who were displaced by the earthquake? The majority of the displaced were renters. Housing is being built for people who can document that they owned the homes they lost. But renters are living in tents in the camps. How do we get them back into homes? There are key decisions the Haitian government has to make before humanitarian agencies can step in to meet people's needs.

Where Progress Was Made

Melissa Crutchfield: We don't need government permits to build transitional shelters as long as they meet some established criteria, such as simple engineering guidelines set by the United Nations. But there are a limited number of Haitian engineers in the country to oversee the building of permanent structures. They have been encouraged to learn seismic building codes and earthquake-resistant technologies. They've been sent to different venues around the world to be trained. Upon return, they've been deployed to improve building on a project-by-project basis. We've helped the EMH (Eglise Methodiste de Haiti, or Methodist Church in Haiti) hire one of these engineering experts to oversee our building projects. One-building-at-a-time, we are slowly but surely making progress.

It is pretty straightforward for a proven property owner to rebuild if there are no community questions about the land rights. All that's needed is authorization and permission from the local mayor. So, on a decentralized level, the procedures are working fairly well and smaller projects are moving forward. But the big challenge is how to redesign and rebuild the city of Port-au-Prince.

UMCOR's Priorities

Melissa Crutchfield: Education is a huge priority for both UMCOR and the EMH. The EMH already had an infrastructure of about 100 schools. UMCOR is working with the church to strengthen that infrastructure and support the teachers. We are also working to expand a school hot-lunch program that has been very successful. Some of the private Methodist schools still need to be rehabilitated or rebuilt, but all are fully functional. They have students in them every day. The church was already responsible for managing those schools and made sure they were back in use as soon as possible. UMCOR, UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission), and EMH are helping rebuild the Methodist school system.

Thomas Dwyer: UMCOR built several schools in Camp Corail, a tent community outside Port-au-Prince, where 10,000 Haitians have taken refuge. The decision to build the schools was worked out through the UN cluster system, so the Haiti Ministry of Education was involved. The Ministry agreed to manage the schools but hadn't identified teachers within the camp to staff them. So, while the schools were completed in 2010, the actual handover ceremony to the Ministry of Education was delayed until January 31, 2011. Now teachers are in place and children in the camp are in school. Our next set of schools will soon be built near the Tabarre Issa camp.

Melissa Crutchfield: Since livelihoods remain a big priority, we've started a pilot agriculture project that we can scale up in other communities. We've already invested in agricultural and microcredit projects and will continue to do more.

Health is also a big focus for UMCOR. While we are recruiting health specialists to work with UMCOR and EMH, we don't want to duplicate the efforts of strong partners working in that sector. We've worked to strengthen community health structures with partners such as Grace Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Some UMVIM teams are helping to rebuild Methodist clinics.

Thomas Dwyer: We are currently considering a potential collaboration with Habitat for Humanity on a shelter model they are building.

Melissa Crutchfield: We've made great use of UMCOR's school and health kits. Thanks to our connections with the church and the communities it serves, we've been able to channel health kits into cholera-impacted areas. We also need birthing kits, and we have partners in Haiti who can ensure their proper use and distribution among traditional birthing attendants.

Ecumenical Cooperation

Melissa Crutchfield: Through UMCOR, The United Methodist Church is a member of the ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together). It's a global ecumenical consortium of faith-based organizations working through the World Council of Churches. UMCOR cooperates with ACT Alliance members on projects. We share information in order to craft a coordinated response. One agency may have strength in one skill area, or sector expertise, or a closer geographic location. So we work to support one another rather than duplicating efforts.

The EMH is one of the larger denominations in Haiti, which is a district of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA). While the Haiti District spreads across the whole country, it is more concentrated in Port-au-Prince, Cap Hatien, and Jeremie.

Fund Disbursements

Melissa Crutchfield: The UMCOR Haiti Emergency Relief Advance brought in about $43 million. Thus far, approximately $26 million has either been spent on the ground or is allocated for work beginning shortly as part of a planned response.

Significant relief funds have been channeled through the Methodist Church in Haiti. UMCOR has also made several grants to other partners, such as Global Health Action and Global Medic. We've funded a rehabilitation and prosthesis clinic for Grace Children's Hospital, while covering some of its operational costs. We've supported the UMVIM program with a matching grant of up to $3500 per team so that each volunteer team's efforts can go twice as far.

Thomas Dwyer: There's been criticism that not enough progress was made in Haiti in 2010. A lot of that is warranted. Given the size and scope of this disaster, Haiti is still stuck in the emergency phase. A big challenge has been the lack of a sorely needed government partner at various levels. But another main issue is the rubble. An estimated 10 million cubic meters of rubble still cover Haiti. Only about 2 million cubic meters have been removed to date. Until all the rubble has been removed and plans resolving land tenure and ownership questions are in place, further progress will be delayed.

Overall, innumerable resources have been raised for Haiti, but very small amounts have been disbursed. I think the only counter to all of this is the faith community, which has probably raised a large majority of the money and has started moving some of it forward. Haiti is very much a spiritual society and deeply involved in faith. Faith gives the Haitians hope. On any given Sunday, everyone is at church. As a faith-based organization, we have a huge task.

Melissa Crutchfield: Why haven't we spent more? The answer is: UMCOR will be there for the long term, and if we'd spent all the money in the first year--in the relief stage--we wouldn't have anything left for Haiti's recovery stage. So we've been working to strengthen the capacity of our Haitian partners. The Methodist Church in Haiti needs to develop the human resources, skills, and infrastructure to help in Haiti's recovery. UMCOR, too, has established a strong presence in Haiti; so we have a good foundation for managing large grants, implementing projects, and making sure the jobs are done well.

Thomas Dwyer: The EMH has also been significantly involved in helping us out with operational capacity on the ground. We have a staff house and an office facility provided through the church. We wouldn't be at the phase we're in now without the church's assistance.

Another challenge has been finding and keeping trained staff to stay long-term in Haiti. I think most agencies have had serious problems trying to keep people on the ground after the earthquake. You rotate people in, train them, and they leave to work for another agency. As a result, there is no continuity. But I think we are getting there now. We have a good team on the ground. We have a few more positions to fill. After that, we'll work on training the Haitian staff until they're ready to take on the responsibilities.

Melissa Crutchfield: Through the UMVIM program, UMCOR has a "cash for work" program that employs at least two Haitians for every American volunteer on a site. We have helped the Haitian teams take leadership for those programs.

I hadn't been to Haiti for six months, since June 2010. When I returned, I recognized a noticeable change in the amount of rubble in the streets. Things are not perfect, and the recovery is going to take many more years. But the small victories let us know that we are making a difference. We've overcome a lot of challenges with logistics and supply chains. This year, I think things will happen faster, in a way that wasn't possible a year ago.

A CBS Film with a Short Feature on UMCOR's Haiti Response

Religion's Response to the Haiti Earthquake is available from CBS by calling 1-800-494-6007 to order. The cost is $19.98 plus $4.95 for shipping and handling. Melissa Crutchfield is one of the disaster-response coordinators interviewed in the film.

Melissa Crutchfield is assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, UMCOR. Thomas Dwyer is executive director, UMCOR NGO. Their remarks for this article were edited from a January 24 presentation and webcast.


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Date posted: May 12, 2011