Written by Anthony Moujaes
When the United Church of Christ asked for donations in 2010 for earthquake relief in Haiti, the denomination's members responded with a generous $4.5 million in aid to help a struggling people. In the three years since, those gifts have allowed Haiti to begin its recovery from the second-deadliest earthquake on record.
"I would say there has been a lot of work on the recovery from the earthquake itself," said Aaron Tate, Haiti earthquake response coordinator for Church World Service. Church World Service is the UCC partner agency working in Haiti. Tate has seen firsthand how humanitarian aid is being used in the underdeveloped country.
"I can say people have moved on from the earthquake. Most of that is because of the Haitians here," Tate said. "You do see the recovery, you see houses fixed and people going back to some form of employment."
On January 12, 2010, an earthquake shook the tiny nation, killing more than 316,000 people and injuring 300,000 more. There were 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings destroyed by the quake or the dozens of aftershocks in the weeks after, and 1 million people were left homeless.
Susan Sanders, the UCC's minister for global sharing of resources, said that as the denomination reflects on the earthquake, "it is also thankful for its partners in Haiti who worked non-stop to provide emergency relief and are now engaged in the long journey of recovery and rebuilding. We are grateful for the generosity of UCC congregations, members and friends which is supporting life-sustaining ministry across Haiti."
The WCM Board of Directors plans to continue funding the recovery effort through 2015, Sanders said.
A pastor at a UCC congregation in Washington, D.C., also got involved in the recovery effort. The Rev. Graylan Hagler worked with a group of Haitian lawyers to bring clean water to the country without compromising the environment. The Plymouth UCC pastor said there was an interest in working with the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network on a project to improve the conditions of drinking water during a cholera outbreak in 2011. A solar-powered water filtration system now delivers up to 30,000 gallons of water to a town outside Port au Prince.
"It was an interfaith project for all walks of people," Hagler said of the system, which the UCC helped transport to Haiti. "It shows how people can cooperate together. What we're trying to look at is having the indigenous people carry across what we what we carry on with them."
Tate also pointed to the tenacity of Haitian citizens for their roles in the relief effort. The people of Haiti were on the ground to remove rubble, they were the first responders in the first hours after the earthquake, and Haitians living in other countries contribute more than $1 billion annually to restoring their country.
The recovery effort focused on five areas in Haiti: building and improving housing, assisting people with disabilities, agriculture, children, and material aid.
Repairs and construction to housing have taken place throughout the country, and Tate estimates that CWS has helped build or rebuild 491 houses through local partners.
"All the work is done through Haitian organizations," he said. "It's not as helpful when foreigners do the building and then leave."
People with disabilities had trouble accessing emergency aid and were often the last people to get food, so CWS found ways to assist and get those people the aid sooner rather than later. Tate worked with organizations that ensured childrens' rights were protected during the reconstruction, and CWS provided 500,000 tents, tarps and hygiene kits in the days after the earthquake when the population was vulnerable.
"A lot went into the initial emergency response, and I think that's just," Tate said. "We saw people dying, so we gave money to stop people from dying."
Haiti might be back to where it once was before the earthquake, but the country was still the least developed in the Western hemisphere with a fractured infrastructure. Tate says the government isn't transparent in its actions; the economy lacks diversity; foreign policy from other countries doesn't act in the best interest of Haiti.
There's also a lesson about the cost of disaster recovery. Tate says there's an estimated $5 billion (as high as $9 billion by some accounts) that went to the relief effort, but compared to the amount from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans ($170 billion according to a recent CWS report), the evidence of how expensive a natural disaster can cost and how long a recovery can take is clear.
"But we take seriously the way we spend every penny," Tate said.