Haiti: Many small steps to progress

Thursday, January 13, 2011

by Rainer Lang, DKH communicator

Q: Cornelia, what were the strongest and most emotional impressions of your journey through Haiti?
CFW: Particularly emotional was the visit to a school in Jacmel where we met incredibly dedicated teachers and a headmistress who’s been in charge of this elementary school for over 30 years now. The teachers and pupils not only experienced the destruction of their school, which we helped them rebuild, but are also suffering trauma. To know our help is only limited is very hard for me.
What made another deep impression on me was to see on the one hand how happy people were when they got their new homes, which we helped put up, and to see on the other hand those who had to go on living in the emergency camps. For them there is no easy way out because they were either renters or they could not prove information on their land ownership. Or they were teachers who, due to their income, did not meet the criteria for obtaining help. Yet in the coming months they won’t get paid and will thus run into debt, and become poor. It is not easy to grasp the fact that we cannot help to the extent necessary.

Q: How would you sum up the difficult situation of realising demand for assistance is high but that you are unable to meet it?
CFW: We are very grateful for all the donations we’ve received. However, it must be made clear that they are not sufficient. This country has been neglected for decades and dives into a disaster from one of the poorest situations possible. This cannot all be set right during such a catastrophe, one cannot meet the demand. The destruction alone adds up to six to seven billion Euros. But when not even that money is available, it’s difficult. Yet, even these amounts would not be enough to make the country rich. Poverty would persist.

Q: After the earthquake there was a huge readiness to donate money. But then donors said, ‘we’ve given money, what can we see?’ How do you respond to the donors’ high expectations?
CFW: We were extremely active in our emergency relief effort. We helped people survive by providing food, drinking water and medical assistance so they would not die in the aftermath. That alone is a huge feat considering the number of casualties was higher than in many other disasters. The people are still alive – that is the result of our aid. And I find that’s a great achievement. We’ve built solid houses in which people can live a long time. So we have the houses but yet we don’t see a rich country and we won’t for the next 10 years at least. Our public has an inappropriate level of expectation. People think everything will be like over here in Germany and that in two years’ time everything will be rebuilt and fully restored. But it’s never going to be like that in Haiti. Without further, long-lasting commitment from donors and the international community, they will never be able to see what they expect to see.

Q: Before the catastrophe Haiti was already a poor and unstructured country. Now the situation has worsened. How has this influenced aid?
CWF: From a logistical standpoint this was one of the most difficult disasters we had ever dealt with. When there are no transport routes to extremely remote regions where there are hardly any hospitals, how do you bring help within decent time to the people who need it most? That’s why it had a huge bearing on how people in great poverty cope with their daily lives in the wake of such a catastrophe. One cannot simply ignore that and just give emergency aid.

Q: Is it true DKH is suggesting this catastrophe be used as developmental stage and that emergency aid be expanded to long-term development aid?
CWF: We would love to do that and are discussing this already with Diakonie Emergency Aid’s German sister organisation Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World). Hopefully we will succeed but it’s not an easy task. We’d also love to see if the international community thinks the same and that not all aid organisations leave after one year, when all the TV cameras have finally gone. It’s important to further invest in this country after the rehabilitation phase is successfully completed.

Haiti: after the earthquake