Czech NGO People in Need on situation in Haiti one year on

Photo: CTK

January 12 marks the first anniversary since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing 230,000 people and injuring 300,000 others. A year on, major difficulties remain: 800,000 people continue to live in temporary camps and the country has suffered additional misery: political instability along with flooding and disease.

Marie Skálová  (left),  photo: People in Need
A little earlier I spoke to of the Czech NGO People in Need’s Marie Skálová, who spent most of 2010 in Haiti and saw conditions upfront.

“The situation is unfortunately not improving very quickly, for example in Port-au-Prince you can still see lots of rubble that hasn’t been removed. Of course a lot of international NGOs are working to help improve conditions and UN agencies and they are working very hard. The priority is to get people from temporary camps to transitional shelters.”

How has the role of People in Need changed from the first few weeks or months of the disaster last year?

“In the beginning People in Need was really focussing on the emergency situation and emergency humanitarian work. We worked through our partners from France and Ireland and the focus was on cash-for-work, clean drinking water and so on. We also had an emergency medical unit in Port-au-Prince for the first three weeks.

Port-au-Prince in January 2010,  photo: CTK
“After that we moved about 60 kilometres from the capital to Petit-Goâve where we have been focusing on education and child protection and getting children into schools, providing vocational training. We’ve also built some permanent schools and so on.”

In your work you must get to know a great many people on a personal basis: have you been able to see how individual families or individuals have progressed?

“Of course, you see it up close. I can give you one example: we helped one young man around 20 who lost almost everything. He has trained as a carpenter and already has kids and is taking care of his mother. So his life is slowly, slowly getting back to normal.”

If it’s possible to sum up the national mood or the environment in general, do you think it is possible for Haitians to look more positively towards the future now? Or is it still very much in question what the future will bring?

Protests against the November election results in Port-au-Prince,  photo: CTK
“I think that it is very difficult for them because Haiti was not only completely paralysed by the earthquake, it also suffered a cholera outbreak in October and it is constantly unstable: there were elections in November 2010 and the political instability is huge. All of these things are very discouraging.

“Regarding the earthquake itself though, last January, I was very surprised by how the Haitian people were able to try and forget what happened and try to look forward. Even though they had lost everything, their families, they were able to restart their lives and try to work and try to think positively.”