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Humanitarian Aid on the move #7, special issue: Haïti

Economic and social recovery in rural areas following the earthquake in Haiti: linking relief, rehabilitation and development
Peggy Pascal, Erwin Schmitt and Fabien Thomas

One year after the earthquake, Haiti is still faced with many problems. One of the International Community’s missed opportunities during the first months of the response was not to have boosted agriculture and invested in rural areas to help them take in displaced people and create an economic counterweight to Port-au-Prince. Certain projects, such as the one run by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL on the hillsides of Petit-Goâve, which combines a response to emergency needs while trying to deal with the structural causes of food insecurity, show what is possible. 9 months on, an in-depth assessment of production systems and good knowledge of the area and the hillsides farming system have allowed the teams to establish strong links with the communities and to adapt the project over time in response to changes in the context, changing needs and changing resilience strategies.

 I - The earthquake, its direct consequences and the humanitarian response

On Tuesday 12 January 2010, an earthquake of magnitude 7.3 on the Richter scale, whose focus was less than 10 km deep, was recorded in Haiti’s Western department. More than a hundred aftershocks were recorded in the hours and days following the earthquake. A strong aftershock of magnitude 6 was recorded as late as January 20 to the North-West of Jacmel (South-Eastern department). The commune of Petit-Goâve was one of the most severely affected in the Western department. One of the earthquake’s two epicentres was situated 5 km from Petit-Goâve.

The direct consequences of the earthquake in Petit-Goâve were:

  • 2000 of the population of 157000 were killed.
  • 32000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged forcing people to find shelter with neighbours or families or in makeshift shelters. This was followed by mass displacement from urban to rural areas and the setting up of numerous camps for displaced persons.
  • Damage to roads such as the Route nationale 2, which was blocked by fallen rocks, or minor access roads to the hillsides and the mule tracks/paths which cover them, linking villages and allowing the distribution and sale of agricultural produce.


The humanitarian response

Following the earthquake, a large number of actors rapidly began to provide emergency aid: access to water and sanitation, food aid and the distribution of emergency shelters and basic necessities. But during the initial months, the majority of this aid was concentrated in urban areas and displaced persons camps in the plains. Very few organizations were conducting operations in the hills. Yet, following the earthquake, thousands of people had come from the cities to find refuge with their families who lived in the hills. This massive and sudden arrival had a major impact on household economies as food reserves which were supposed to last several months were used up in a few weeks. Furthermore, the lack of humanitarian response in these areas pushed certain people to go down into the plains to set up “ghost” camps in order to obtain aid. The emergency response during the initial months only reached a very small section of the population of Petit-Goâve, 80% of whom live in rural and peri-urban areas.