* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hurricane Sandy wreaked widespread devastation upon New York, USA but also left a trail of destruction through many islands in the Caribbean. Its timing could not have been worse either. Not only did Tropical Storm Isaac strike just a couple of months before but Haiti was, and still is, recovering from the 2010 earthquake that left over two million homeless and led to a widespread outbreak of cholera and food shortages. This complex environment made it challenging for the ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) that assessed the need following Sandy.
‘It became clear fairly early on that ShelterBox-led distributions would not be practical or effective,’ said SRT member James Webb (UK). ‘Working through partners who have a thorough knowledge of the country’s geography and good understanding of Haiti’s long-term recovery, was a more appropriate method of working. We therefore decided to work with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Handicap International (HI), who continue to distribute ShelterBoxes prepositioned in the capital Port-au-Prince to families in need.’
Jean-Luc Grossoleil is the Chef de Mission in Haiti for Hl:
‘After Sandy, the majority of families were hosted by neighbours or relatives while others tried to build small shelters made with palm branches. These families, isolated and facing hard living conditions, have been targeted in priority. Through the support of ShelterBox, HI distributed tents to households having lost their homes and belongings.
‘Return to their land’
‘While much remains to be done to help these people in depth, this timely assistance has allowed them to retrieve some of their dignity. After the distribution, a significant number of beneficiaries expressed their relief as they were also able to return to their land.’
One beneficiary who refused to be named said: ‘When Sandy hit there was heavy rain and sudden gusts of wind. After three hours my house began to crack. My wife and I began to pray as our children cried. We wanted to call for help but we didn’t have a mobile phone. At the end of the night, a big part of our house collapsed and we lost five children and some animals.
‘We [ten people] were forced to live under a tarpaulin for several weeks before we received a ShelterBox. We now have a safe place for sleeping every night and to recover a normal life.’
HI distributed 300 ShelterBox tents supporting almost 1,600 people where 78% had homes completely destroyed and the others were heavily damaged. Almost two thirds are female-headed households, which suggests that men are either working, trying to find work, or have left their families. Only 11% of the beneficiaries have an income. These vulnerable families now have shelter giving them safety and protection and a chance to rebuild their lives.
Humanitarian agencies, including ShelterBox, IOM and HI, in collaboration with Haitian institutions and civil society, have helped improve the lives of over 1.5 million Haitians in the last three years. They have ensured adequate services to the 1.5 million displaced by the quake and helped return or relocate 77% of these people out of camps. The number of people newly affected by the cholera epidemic has been considerably reduced and mortality rates lowered to 1.2%. National capacities to prepare for and respond to future emergencies have also been partially strengthened. But there are still further shelter needs, and until they are met, HI and IOM will continue to distribute ShelterBoxes to displaced families.