Haiti – Preparation and lessons learnt made the difference

Fort Liberté, September 10th – 48 hours have passed since Irma’s soft passage. In the words of the departmental head of the Education Ministry in the North East, Irma was a ‘failed hurricane’. And yet, there is still an aftermath. With my colleagues Abner and Brice, who had been stationed in the North from the middle of last week to prepare for Irma, I had the opportunity today to visit shelters in Ouanaminthe and Fort Liberté, the most affected areas.

A school used as temporary shelter.

In total, 13 shelters had been opened in schools, churches and teacher centers, hosting over 5,000 people who had sought refuge at the onset of the hurricane. Some will find their homes flooded when they return home.

“I have eight children and my house is under water. We lost everything so I really hope that the authorities will help us,” said Susanne, 40 years old.

Yet, most were lucky. Predictions of Irma’s destruction were more daunting than her actual touch. Based on the current situation, the schools that had served as shelter will be closed today. Once everyone has left, the classrooms will be cleaned.

To facilitate their return, the families who’d settled in these shelters will receive food and hygiene kits before they are sent home. In the most affected communities, UNICEF and partners have established water bladders to ensure drinking water is accessible despite flooded wells.

The shared objective of Government, civil society and UN partners is to make sure that people can return to their normal lives quickly. To avoid any further delay, schools are supposed to reopen tomorrow, wherever possible.

People in a temporary shelter wait for a distribution.

‘Our benches, chairs and books are under water. Everything is flooded. Reopening the school will take us at least three weeks,” according to Frère René who works with Caritas in Malfety. His school is one of many that were impacted by Irma, and a joint assessment by the government, UNICEF and other education partners is scheduled for tomorrow to ensure assistance is provided where needed.

Despite the weekend, everyone is mobilized, pulling the rope-strings in the same direction. Clearly, lessons have been learned and internalized since Matthew hit Haiti one year ago.

Even though the impact of Hurricane Irma was considered minor, its consequences illustrate once again the prevailing vulnerability of Haiti. Small kicks can make the whole pile collapse.

 

 

 

This post is also available in: French