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A Blueprint for Action in Hurricane-Ravaged Haiti


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    The Haitian government adopts a UM study for its post-Hurricane Matthew recovery and rebuilding efforts.

    UM News

    Photo courtesy of the Office of President of Haiti

    Haitian President Jovenel Moïse convened a meeting of his cabinet and advisors to discuss the report co-funded by Project Medishare and the Center for Haitian Studies.

    PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (June 27, 2017)—Proving the value of field research and community input, a report prepared by University of Miami anthropologists who spent three months assessing the assets available to help Haiti’s devastated southern region recover from Hurricane Matthew received the endorsement of the Haitian government this month.

    Rather than put the study on a shelf, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and his Cabinet officially adopted the report’s recommendations as a guide for the government’s intervention in the Grand Sud region, which took the brunt of last October’s Category 4 hurricane, leaving many people with unsuitable housing, destroyed crops, lost jobs and no water system.

    “This report is critical because it was done from the ground up,” Moïse said at the June 14 meeting he convened with UM’s scholars, his cabinet and several advisors at Haiti’s National Palace. “It includes Haitian institutions and community members’ perspectives. I read it from beginning to end, and re-read it. The recommendations are succinct and specific to the locales. I can assure you that it will serve as the core guidelines for the government’s policies for reconstruction in the Grand Sud.”

    For the study co-funded by Project Medishare and the Center for Haitian Studies, Louis Herns Marcelin, associate professor of anthropology in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, and the co-founder of Haiti’s Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED), and INURED coordinator Toni Cela, a postdoctoral fellow at UM, spent three months trekking across some of Haiti’s most remote coastal and inland agricultural communities.

    Their goal was to determine Hurricane Matthew’s impact on the region’s communities and livelihoods, assess needs, and identify and map the local resources and assets critical to each locale’s recovery and reconstruction. But the study also had a training mission—to develop more researchers who can tackle Haiti’s problems with science-based facts.

    Marcelin oversaw five data-collection teams—four comprised of one INURED supervisor and five local community members who were trained to conduct community-based surveys, and one team of five ethnographers, including two UM public health graduate students of Haitian descent. INURED supervisors also interviewed and facilitated focus group discussions with community leaders and members, and conducted ethnographic observations.

    “These communities have been devastated by the hurricane, but they have clear ideas about how to rebuild by capitalizing on their existing assets and resources,” Marcelin told the president and his cabinet at their June meeting. “They want to re-establish their autonomy, not develop dependency.”

    The groundwork for the meeting in the National Palace began in late April, when the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas hosted a town hall on the UM campus and disseminated fact sheets from the report, “After Hurricane Matthew: Resources, Capacities, and Pathways to Recovery and Reconstruction for Devastated Communities in Haiti.” The fact sheets were disseminated in partnership with the Observatoire Citoyen de l’Action des Pouvoirs Publics en Haiti (OCAPH), a prominent civil society advocacy in Haiti. Attendees at the town hall from Haiti included Isnel Pierreval, advisor to the Office of the President of Haiti, and OCAPH’s Karl Jean Louis, who strategized with INURED to ensure the final report would reach key people in Haiti who could act on it.

    Returning to Haiti in June with the final report, Marcelin mounted a public education campaign with journalists and civil society organizations to shed light on the plight of Hurricane Matthew’s victims and share the recommendations for assisting them—in advance of the government’s 2017-18 budget preparations. He appeared on several radio stations and on live TV with Haiti’s renowned journalist, Anthony Pascal (Konpè Filo).

    Soon after, the president’s office convened the meeting with INURED and, along with his cabinet members and advisors, applauded the report for its timeliness—the government plans a caravan to the Grand Sud in early July—and for its science-based recommendations that can inform the government’s reconstruction efforts.

    “For a long time now we have been operating in the dark without knowing what these communities truly needed,” said Public Works Minister Fritz Caillot.

    Marie Gréta Roy Clément, the minister of health, noted the study provided an in-depth understanding of post-disaster vulnerability to health hazards. “We have heard reports of the skin diseases that emerged after the disaster, but we never understood the proportion and the depth of the problem,” she said.

    UM's Toni Cela, right, spent three months in the field assessing the needs and assets of Haiti's Grand Sud region, post Hurricane Matthew.

    UM’s Toni Cela, right, spent three months in the field assessing the needs and assets of Haiti’s Grand Sud region, post Hurricane Matthew.

    In addition to the establishment of mini health clinics, free schooling for victims and access to potable water, the report’s recommendations include establishing agricultural banks to provide loans to local farmers and other organizations, hiring agricultural extension workers and veterinarians to revitalize crop production and animal husbandry, collaborating with agronomists to identify solutions for pest threats to agriculture and livestock, and securing commitments from international organizations and NGOs to use local materials and local professionals in their rebuilding projects.

    In signaling the importance of having sound data informed by local realities, President Moïse implicitly embraced INURED’s chief mission, which is to groom new leaders in Haiti who can research its many pressing social and economic issues and guide public policy to resolve them. As Marcelin, who co-founded INURED in 2007 and serves as its chancellor, has long noted, disaster-prone Haiti has relied too long on the unstudied, quick fixes of international aide to resolve its problems.

    “In an ideal world, research should be conducive to the development of public policies and social interventions,” said Cela, who joined INURED after the 2010 earthquake. “It appears that there is the intent from many actors in Haiti to do just that. Both the central and local governments now have a report that can orient the reconstruction of the Grand Sud. Let’s hope that this is a shift of paradigm in the way Haitian society responds to community vulnerabilities and disasters.”

     

     

     

     

     

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