In every emergency, there is always criticism that we have been slow to respond, or ineffective. While it’s healthy for aid agencies to be challenged, it can be understandably frustrating and disheartening for those on the front line in the emergency response.
Even before the quake, Haiti was a challenging place to work. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, most Haitian families lived in appalling poverty – more than half of all families there lived on less than 80p per day. Corruption was rife. Then a huge earthquake devastated the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people and making millions more homeless.
In England, when floods hit, we see footage of people being rescued in boats, staying overnight in churches and community halls until their homes are made safe, or they find friends or family to live with. The infrastructure that supports and shelters us kicks in: fire engines, ambulances, police, helicopters, blankets, water.
In Haiti, the infrastructure collapsed. The capital city was in ruins. Roads were impassable – even if there were ambulances, they couldn’t move. The airport was in ruins. Dead bodies were everywhere. Dogs whose owners had died or fled were left to go feral, and roamed the streets.
Save the Children was already on the ground and began responding immediately. It’s the most complex emergency we have ever responded to in the Western Hemisphere and although of course there are flaws with the humanitarian system, it does work – and there is much that we can feel proud of.
45,000 children have been enrolled in safe temporary schools. Hundreds of thousands of people in camps and communities have been reached with safe water and sanitation. We’ve done health visits, vaccines, antenatal visits, nutrition programmes, child protection. Cholera hit, we responded. Hurricane Tomas hit, we responded. Election violence added further complications – we continued our work.
The Haitian people are resilient, and normal life is slowly resuming here. Save the Children has been here for 30 years, and is also resilient, dedicated and tireless. I’m proud to be a tiny part of it.