Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Catholic Relief Services Headshot

Haiti, One Year After the Quake: New Homes in Old Neighborhoods

Posted: Updated:

By Luke King, CRS Country Representative in Haiti

It is now almost one year since the earth shook in Haiti, ending so many lives and forever changing many more. So much shifted on January 12, but if you travel the streets of Port-au-Prince it can seem that little has changed since. Rubble can still be seen everywhere and the tent communities that sprang up following the quake still dot the city.

But despite enormous challenges -- 1.2 million people homeless and the capital's infrastructure devastated -- tangible progress has been made.

Like so many others, Fleurissaint Fleurisma lost his home in the earthquake. The father of five was working in the yard when the tremor started. At first, he thought he was hearing the sound of a truck screeching to a stop in the street, but then his house began to shake. He watched as the two-story house he built more than a decade ago in Carrefour, one of the city's poor sprawling suburbs, came crumbling down. In about 35 seconds, his home and business -- a small convenience store operating out of the house -- were destroyed.

For months after the earthquake, Fleurissaint and his family lived under a makeshift shelter of sheets and tarps on the street outside their house. They relied mostly on the kindness of neighbors for food.

"I wanted to cry at times, but I couldn't. There are many people who died in the rubble and when I look at my family, I know I am one of the lucky ones," he said.

Today, the family has a home again, a transitional shelter, constructed where their house once stood. It is part of Catholic Relief Services' community-based approach to helping families, some of which are living in tent camps, to resettle in their neighborhoods.

Using a borrowed sledgehammer and wheelbarrow, Fleurissaint and his family and friends worked for about 20 days hacking away at the pile of rubble that was once the house. Partners in the program hauled the chunks away to later be processed into a mixture of gravel and sand to be sold for use in local construction projects, including the foundations of CRS shelters like Fleurissant's. Selling the processed rubble also provides families with valuable income and puts much-needed money into the local economy.

The transitional shelter, while not a permanent dwelling, is a huge improvement on conditions in the tent camps or on the street. It is a two-room wooden structure built on a concrete foundation and is both hurricane- and earthquake-resistant.

As of November 2010, CRS has provided some 1,200 transitional shelters and is building another 120 to 150 every week. The transitional shelters are crafted at a timber yard in Port-au-Prince. CRS currently employs 12 skilled carpenters in addition to many cash-for-work beneficiaries at the shelter's pre-fabrication yard. The pre-fabrication work crew is divided into teams for carrying and stacking lumber, pre-cutting lumber, laying out frames on the production tables and nailing together the completed frames. These transitional homes are made to be easily and quickly assembled by people with little construction experience, although CRS also employs and trains additional crew for on-site help.

CRS' Cash-for-Work program creates short-term employment that has benefited more than 10,000 people through work projects that provide income to vulnerable people and aid communities through improved infrastructure. The laborers at the timber yard are just one example of this. Other cash-for-work activities include the construction of drainage ditches in camps, cleaning and sanitation work and the clearance of debris from drainage canals.

The cash-for-work employees are men and women very much in need of an income. They are most often residents of the tent camps, and in addition to supporting families with cash, the program is putting vital cash back into the local community.

Responding to Cholera Emergency

CRS is providing Haitians with soap, water purification tablets and hygiene guidance to counter the cholera outbreak. More than 22,000 families have received soap from CRS. CRS is also increasing water and sanitation activities in several camps, including latrine and water station repairs, extra disinfection, extra water treatment and additional solid waste removal. CRS staff are engaged in education and awareness-raising campaigns to make sure people understand the basics around cholera transmission, treatment and prevention.

CRS' health team, with colleagues from the University of Maryland, has also been working to help 7 CRS-supported hospitals and four health centers around the country to respond to an influx of cholera patients.

Also over the past year, CRS and church partner Caritas Haiti have:

  • Provided food to nearly 900,000 people and continue to provide monthly food rations to more than 100,000 children in more than 370 schools, orphanages and child-care centers
  • Provided emergency shelter materials to more than 215,000 people
  • Performed over 974 emergency operations and conducted 64,000 outpatient consultations through on-going support to St. Francois de Sales Hospital
  • Installed over 600 latrines, wash stations, potable water tanks and inflatable water bladders in Port-au-Prince and surrounding area
  • Registered 339 separated or unaccompanied children for family tracing and reunifications services, and currently providing them with interim care and support
  • Provided 6,000 families with livelihood support through vouchers that allow them to choose the most appropriate types of seeds and fertilizers -- an approach that also benefits local seeds suppliers and the local economy

All of us at CRS are proud of our achievements so far, but we are well aware that to build back a better Haiti, a Haiti that is much stronger and better able to face future disaster, our work has just started. We continue to stand together with the Haitian people and the local Catholic Church. Thank you for your support and prayers.