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A Roadmap and Hope

March 3rd, 2010

I keep two strong impressions of my third day in Haiti.  First, the United Nations is coping with the challenging job of coordinating the humanitarian work on the ground. Second, things are going to get worse before they get better for thousands of people living in big camps across Haiti.

The humanitarian action in Haiti is organized in 12 thematic clusters (shelter, nutrition, health, logistics etc) under the overall leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator of UN. The system aims at grouping different organizations to make their job more effective and avoid redundancies. This is not an easy task. Some clusters, like the health one, have over 300 participants.  We now have proof that the coordination works – six weeks after the earthquake, the basic needs for food, water, shelter, and health services are being met for millions of people. 

The good news is that the cluster system has defined clear objectives for the time to come.  As the humanitarian community we can set a common goal – a year from now to have all 1.1 million people who lost their homes in transitional and permanent shelter.  For the immediate future there are also clear and measurable tasks: make sure that each family will have a tent, that the camps will have at least one latrine for 100 people, that the quality of the medical service does not decline when the emergency response teams leave the country, and that kids are back in school by the end of the month. 

I could see with my own eyes what meeting these objectives means for people when I visited two of the camps. In the first, for about 10,000 people, we partner with the French Red Cross.  The vice-president of the committee of neighbours tells me that the humanitarian organizations are making it possible to transform the place by building latrines, water supplies, and very soon, a school. He tells me he has hope for his community and for his country.  It is precisely the strong sense of community that I perceived in the camps that gave me the hope that Haitians will manage to face the challenges of the coming hardships.

And the hardships will be many in the months to come. Later in the afternoon I visited the camp of Jacquet Toto, built on a slope by a large waste dump. The camp is at high risk of sliding downhill when the heavy rains start.  Kids play on the top of the waste mountain and it is clear that neither the kids nor the tents should be there.  Camps like this are not only against human dignity, but they are also extremely dangerous. This is why the population in a number of these sites will have to be reallocated to safer and more hygienic places. The good news is that the Government of Haiti has already identified 5 areas where large camps can be safely built.  We know what has to be done and where. A roadmap and hope – those together can make a difference for Haitiis future.    

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