Even before the earthquake struck on 12 January 2010, Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, ranked by the United Nations Development Programme as one of the world’s 50 poorest countries (2009). In short, life was already a struggle for most families. Then the earthquake hit, and lives were turned upside down. It was the most powerful earthquake in Haiti for 200 years.
In the capital Port-au-Prince, 86 per cent of the city’s two million residents lived in densely populated slum areas, where clean water and sanitation were a rarity. Women, because of their roles as mothers and primary care givers, had a particularly tough time, and were especially vulnerable to the violence and intimidation that are commonplace in crowded conditions.
The quake killed more than 220,000 people and injured over 300,000. It left more than one million people homeless – many of whom are still traumatized and still living in tents or under tarpaulins. The majority of these earthquakeaffected families are located in 1,300 temporary camps in and around Port-au-Prince, where Oxfam and other agencies are working.
The high concentration of people in the capital, the destruction of Port-au-Prince, and the huge loss of life led to the disruption of all forms of economic activity and the day-to-day running of the state and national government.
Oxfam, having worked in the country since 1978, was one of the first agencies to respond. So began one of the largest and most complex emergency programs that it has ever been involved in. Even in the developed world, recovery from disasters can take years. In a country already suffering from extreme poverty, political instability, and weak and often corrupt state institutions, the task ahead was even more daunting.
Oxfam’s humanitarian approach was based on the following strategic priorities:
• Delivering high-quality program response in accordance with its own code of conduct and international humanitarian standards (established by Sphere1);
• Focusing on areas of technical program expertise – such as water, sanitation, and hygiene response – and in parts of the city where Oxfam had existing relationships with partners and communities;
• Building the strength and resources of local Oxfam partners, especially those in the earthquake-affected areas;
• Encouraging communities to participate in discussions and decisions about how best to respond to their needs;
• Ensuring that the work Oxfam does is transparent and measured for impact, to reinforce a sense of ownership within communities and civil society.
Over 500,000 people have benefitted from Oxfam’s earthquake response
program in and around Port-au-Prince, Gressier, Petit Goâve, Grand-Goâve, and Léogâne where we have delivered emergency water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, shelter, and emergency food and livelihoods provision.
We are now targeting these same communities with additional activities to prevent the spread of cholera.
In addition, Oxfam is also reaching another 700,000 people in Haiti with life-saving clean water, oral rehydration salts, sanitation services, and hygiene education in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease. These activities are not financed from the Haiti earthquake response fund.
At the time of writing, the total number of people we are now reaching in Haiti with our earthquake response and cholera prevention programs is 1.2 million.