Connect to share and comment

As rains arrive, Haitians brace for more disaster

A quake, rainy season and hurricanes, in rapid succession. How much more suffering will natural disasters bring to Haiti?

“There’s no question we’re facing a calamitous situation,” said Ian Rodgers, a specialist in disaster risk reduction and special adviser to the Save the Children agency. “We only have a few weeks to take critical steps that could reduce the risk of another catastrophe. We’re looking down the barrel of a gun with this hurricane situation.”

With so little time, Rodgers advocates merging two different phases of the disaster response: disaster preparedness activities that are done to prepare communities for a major disaster and the post-disaster emergency humanitarian relief response. Even as food is rushed in to feed the homeless as part of the post-disaster response, prepositioned supplies must also be put into storage for the day — possibly soon — when a major storm hits and local cities are cut off and forced to cope alone.

Rodgers suggests shifting 20 percent of the current relief effort to refocus on disaster risk reduction. Donors also need provide both types of funds now, not later. Such integration might call for more Cash for Work jobs clearing drains, or other activities designed to reduce the risk of floods and mudslides.

Shelter, however, remains a huge problem. It’s twice as costly to building earthquake-and-hurricane proof structures, he says. “It’s very, very expensive.”

In the small southern port city of Jacmel, the local Disaster Preparedness Committee helped residents who were cut off from outside help. The committee provided logistical support to rescue those trapped in collapsed buildings, ferry the injured to medical care and help the newly displaced reach safe areas. That response showed Rodgers that immediate training of local disaster teams, supported by agency specialists, could do a lot in a short time to prepare their communities.

“We are at a fork in the road,” Rodgers said. “The international community has a decision to make — immediately — or we are condemning Haiti to a catastrophic situation.” He added, “We can’t step about. We need to send the best of the best to Haiti to meet these challenges and ward off this disaster. And we have to start now.”