The HC Interview: Haiti

16 March, 2012
Haiti: Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher talks to children while touring a newly constructed canal in the Zidor neighborhood of Cap Haitian. Credit: MINUSTAH/ Victoria Hazou
Haiti: Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher talks to children while touring a newly constructed canal in the Zidor neighborhood of Cap Haitian. Credit: MINUSTAH/ Victoria Hazou

Haiti is struggling to strengthen its institutions and rebuild itself more than two years after the devastating earthquake of 2010. There has been significant progress—around 1 million people have left the camps; 5 million cubic metres of rubble have been cleared and the number of children with access to primary education is increasing. Cholera-related mortality rates have declined steadily since the outbreak began in October 2010. 

Despite this progress, humanitarian needs are still enormous, according to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, Nigel Fisher. More cholera infections are expected this year, and the country is vulnerable to major disasters including hurricanes and flooding. But funding is declining; so far, just 4 per cent of this year’s funding requirement has been met.  
Mr. Fisher has been the Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti since April 2010. He talks about the urgent need for funding to continue providing the most vulnerable people with food, shelter, medical treatment, water and sanitation.     
What are some of the most pressing humanitarian needs in Haiti today?

We all know that the humanitarian problems that Haiti is facing today have long-term roots. For instance, we all agree that the long-term solutions to the cholera epidemic are improved water supply and sanitation, and strengthened local health systems. 
Last year, the infection rates in the camps were much lower than the national average, primarily because we had a strong humanitarian response providing chlorinated water and ensuring that people had access to latrines. Now, many humanitarian partners are pulling out because of the lack of funding, and many donors are mostly interested in funding longer-term development projects over humanitarian ones. 
And the humanitarian needs are still there. The conditions in many camps today are much worse than they were last year because the tents are falling apart and clean water is less available. Another big concern is that we are running out of partners who can clean out and maintain latrines. We are worried that people in need might become more vulnerable this year.  
What has been achieved in these two years? 
In June and July 2010, there were over 1.5 million displaced people in 1,300 camps. Right now, we are down to about 490,000 people in 600 camps, so you can see the numbers have really gone down. 
Rubble removal has also been very impressive. More than half the rubble has been removed at a much faster rate than in Aceh, Indonesia, after the tsunami and in lower Manhattan after 9/11. 
Also, there has not been a major epidemic as a result of the earthquake or a major food crisis. This goes to show that people were provided with food, medical care, clean water and sanitation.  
Over three quarters or almost 80 per cent of primary-school-age children in camps now have access to education compared with, at most, 55 per cent in the entire country. 
There has been progress on disaster risk reduction as well. The Haitian Department of Civil Protection has really come a very long way and is now the leader on disaster risk reduction and preparedness for the hurricane season. They are also working with the UN Development Programme on earthquake-mitigation projects.
What is your message to donors? 
One big issue with Haiti is that it suffers from cyclical disasters because of the climate. We will never be in a situation where we can say Haiti has passed the humanitarian crisis and is now in full development mode. We have to be able to deal with the short-term crises and long-term development together. This might be a challenge for us and also for donors who make a distinction between humanitarian and development funding. We need funding for both. 
We also need to support the strengthening of the Haitian institutions, whether they are Government, private sector or NGO, so that they can eventually take the lead on the humanitarian response. For many years, I think it is generally believed that the international community has side-stepped the Government because it was thought to be weak. We need to help the Government strengthen its capacity. 
What is your message to the humanitarian community?
One thing I carry around with me like a mantra is something a Haitian man said to me in February 2010. He was upset with organizations that did not consult local authorities and communities. “We are not beggars. We do not want a handout from you, but we will not mind a hand up,” he said. 
To me, that symbolizes what we should be doing. We should not be displacing the Haitian capacity; we should not just be handing out support charitably, but we should be working with the Haitians. They are a proud and independent people, and they want to run their own country. I think we should be supporting them in that.

Keyword search