On 12 January 2010, the earth shook in Haiti. Helvetas was one of the Swiss organizations that provided emergency aid and reconstruction immediately after the disaster. This action has a positive impact even today. However, Haiti continues to remain one of the most fragile states in the world and is still dependent on support.
The devastating earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Haiti 10 years ago. International solidarity was strong. The Swiss development organization, Helvetas, had already been present on the ground for over 20 years. With Swiss Solidarity support, it was soon able to provide emergency and, soon after, reconstruction aid on the ground, too.
Helvetas knew the conditions there and adapted the humanitarian measures to the concrete needs of the people. During a six-month emergency relief phase, Helvetas supported the rural population in the Artibonite department, north of the capital. Here, villagers and people fleeing from the disaster cleared the roads and secured the slopes. The local communities coordinated the work and local banks transferred the salaries. Thus, the authorities were involved directly in disaster management, which further strengthened their ability to function.
During the reconstruction phase from 2011 to 2016, Helvetas worked in Petit-Goâve, west of Port-au-Prince. Helvetas helped the population to restore the water supply. Destroyed springs were repaired and water reservoirs rebuilt. Helvetas also supported the reconstruction of the road network so that women could go to the market, children could go to school, and the health center was accessible again. Helvetas later provided disaster preparedness by reforesting watersheds and training authorities in disaster management.
Learning from Haiti
Helvetas linked short-term emergency response with longer-term development cooperation. For example, people were able to earn an income from road construction and slope stabilization; hence becoming less dependent on outside help. With the support of Helvetas, people themselves took responsibility for building a future worth living.
Following the earthquake, Helvetas began to train staff in other partner countries and prepared itself to provide faster and more efficient help in the event of a disaster. Since then, Helvetas has an emergency relief fund and emergency aid specialists on board. In 2015, following the earthquake in Nepal, Helvetas provided extensive emergency and reconstruction aid. And, since 2018, it has been involved in the world's largest refugee camp at present for Rohingya and the local population in Bangladesh.
Swiss emergency aid has been effective - but the situation remains tense
The Helvetas aid projects in Haiti were largely supported by Swiss Solidarity. Thanks to the great solidarity of the Swiss population, the fundraising organization was able to use almost CHF 63 million to finance 91 projects implemented by Helvetas and 20 other partner relief organizations. A comprehensive, independent impact analysis confirms the effectiveness of Swiss emergency aid by way of the following facts: 92 percent of the households surveyed attribute the most important change in their lives to the projects supported by Swiss Solidarity. 90 percent of the survey participants were able to cover their basic needs and restore their livelihoods thanks to this aid.
Today, Haiti is still the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and is still dependent on international aid. The recent unrest highlights the tense political, economic and social situation in the country. This makes the effective work of Helvetas even more important. The effects of Hurricane Matthew could have been much worse without disaster preparedness. In addition, the reforestation and nature conservation projects have offered fishermen and smallholder families an additional income - and raised their awareness of the environment. A practice-oriented vocational training project helps young people find jobs and provide for their families in Haiti.
Switzerland has so far supported numerous important projects in Haiti. The Federal Council wants to now withdraw from the country by 2024. Helvetas, together with other organizations, is defending itself against this since support is still needed in Haiti so that the population and authorities can rebuild and shape their country themselves.