Haiti: Group of ‘political champions’ pledges support for disaster resilience
With the upcoming rainy season only weeks away and the hurricane season fast approaching, an informal group of UN leaders, international organization heads and government ministers has visited Haiti to highlight the need for action to be taken to make the beleaguered country more resilient to disasters.
“Disasters are a fact of life, but their impact should not be,” said UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, who travelled to Haiti with the co-chairs of the Political Champions for Disaster Resilience, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening.
“Helping the Haitian people and their Government build back stronger, safer and more resilient to disasters must be at the heart of our thinking.”
The group of Political Champions was formed in 2012 to promote a resilience-based response to climate and natural disaster related crises. During the visit, the group met with senior Government officials, community leaders and representatives from civil society and the private sector, to discuss ways of making disaster risk reduction and management a critical priority for investment and development in Haiti.
“Haiti is overexposed to natural hazards,” said Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe. “The Government is fully committed to put all necessary efforts to find sustainable solutions. (We) hope that the Political Champions initiative will help channel the necessary resources and energies to strengthen national capacities to prevent and manage the impact of disasters.”
On Sunday (21 April), the group visited a government-led project in Jean Baptiste, a neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince that was devastated by the 2010 earthquake. The project is part of the Government’s 16/6 initiative to relocate families in six camps back to 16 rehabilitated neighbourhoods. They saw first-hand the steps the community had taken, with Government guidance and support, to limit the danger of future disasters, including the building of a wall to protect against landslides and floods.
“This retaining wall was prioritized by the community when carrying out the community planning exercise,” explained Gay Borgela, a member of the Community Platform of Jean Baptiste, an official group of local representatives who have been trained to help identify risks and define rehabilitation priorities.
This project is just one example of how aid organizations and the Government are trying to build resilience in Haiti. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting efforts to build a ‘disaster proof’ agricultural sector that can serve as a buttress against the country’s chronic food insecurity. In schools across the country, thousands of young Haitians and their teachers are learning about earthquakes and other threats.
This type of ‘whole of society’ approach to disaster risk reduction is critical, explained UNDP’s Helen Clark.
“Responsibility for disaster risk management does not lie with disaster managers alone,” she said. “It is rather a concern for everyone – from citizens to political leaders, to the private sector and civil society.”
Haiti is recognized as one of the most disaster-affected countries in the world. In 2010, a devastating earthquake claimed over 220,000 lives. Even today, an estimated 1.5 million people still require basic humanitarian assistance. Factors such as poor urban planning, high population density, environmental degradation and poverty conspired to amplify the earthquake’s impact. Until they are addressed, these factors will continue to exacerbate impact of other disasters including cyclones, floods and health crises.