Climate resilience still under construction

For Haitians and friends of Haiti, January 12, 2010 is a date forever imprinted in their memory. The earthquake and its aftershocks claimed the lives of an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people and displaced 1.3 million people. Despite billions of dollars in emergency assistance and reconstruction funds, thousands remain homeless even now, seven years later.

Precarious housing matters on many levels, for reasons of dignity, health and safety. But of principal concern long-term, is people’s exposure to subsequent natural disasters in a country ranked as one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Haiti’s vulnerability has only worsened since the earthquake. Although many smaller storms and long-term drought from El Niño go unnoticed by the international community, Haitians are painfully aware of the extreme climate conditions that affect their livelihoods, homes and community stability. Post-earthquake, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was able to scale up housing repair and rebuilding projects with existing partners while also advocating to protect the rights of those who were displaced and living under tarps and tents.

Recently, attention has focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew which hit southern Haiti in October 2016, destroying buildings, infrastructure, crops, livestock, and human lives. The hurricane killed an estimated 546 people; the destruction impacted 1.4 million people and displaced 175,500. With an estimated 80-100 percent of crops and half of all livestock destroyed in the south and southwest regions, Matthew left behind some 806,000 people facing hunger.

Even before hurricane season, Haiti was reeling from the worst drought in 15 years. Many farmers missed replanting in the winter because they lacked access to seeds. A shortage of locally-produced food is causing food prices to rise across the country and increasing people’s dependence on imported food.

While many despair about the unpredictability of natural disasters like droughts and hurricanes, there are still myriad ways to prepare for disasters before they happen while mitigating risks for vulnerable people and ecosystems. Haiti’s island neighbors face these same storms, yet the impact is not as devastating as it is for Haiti. Disaster preparedness, response and mitigation, as well as infrastructure and government capacity, are the building blocks for any community to shore up resilience before disaster strikes.

In this way, projects that address long term food security, reforestation and infrastructure needs (even simple latrines) can all help to reinforce disaster mitigation efforts. MCC has been supporting local Haitian capacity in these sectors for decades, while supplementing the long-term work with emergency assistance when things like hurricanes and earthquakes catch communities off guard.

Outside assistance will continue to be critical for Haiti until the government is able to sustain long-underfunded government ministries. MCC has also been working towards this end in its long-term advocacy, pushing for government accountability, transparency and capacity-building. Just as there is much to be done to rebuild after the hurricane, there is much work to be done to build disaster preparedness and climate resilience. We must start one brick at a time.

Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published  on January 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe

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