Over the past decade, Haiti has been left devastated by a series of extreme weather events and natural disasters. In 2008, the country was hit by four hurricanes, killing 800 people and destroying agricultural land. Then, less than two years later, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the country’s capital. More than 220,000 people lost their lives and 1.5 million people were rendered homeless.
A combination of poor infrastructure, densely populated urban areas, and a lack of disaster preparedness, has left Haiti’s 11 million-some population extremely vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters. Given the frequency of natural disasters, planning for and building resilient infrastructure is crucial for creating safer living environments and a more sustainable future for Haiti’s people.
With partners, UNOPS has been working with communities across the country to do just that, by helping to rebuild and rehabilitate key infrastructure that can better withstand the kinds of brute forces of nature that have ravaged the Small Island Developing State.
We take a look at three projects, implemented by UNOPS, which are helping to build a more resilient future for Haiti, and improve access to health, education, and other public services.
UNOPS is currently rebuilding a school and dispensary that used to be located in the heart of one of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighbourhoods, Fort National. The school, which was once attended by more than 700 students, was completely destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. While a replacement school was rebuilt nearby in another location, the old site was left empty and had become a dumping ground for rubbish, causing a range of health and social challenges for the neighboring community.
In an effort to address this and to also improve the quality of education available to girls in particular, the community began working with the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne and UNOPS, to build an additional school at the original site. The facility will accommodate up to 520 female students, with the capacity to expand to 720 students, if the need arises.
Construction is expected to be completed later this year, benefitting up to 40,000 people. The project has already generated more than 900 jobs in the community, with a further 1,000 jobs expected to be created as work progresses.
“We are working in one of the most challenging parts of the world to build infrastructure that will help empower women and give them better access to education, as well as give families access to better healthcare,” says UNOPS Project Manager, Pierre-Yves Jousseaume.
Designed to withstand future earthquakes and hurricanes, the new school and dispensary will have their own water storages and energy supplies, as well as easy-to-maintain facilities. This includes plumbing and ventilation that will help ensure the facilities are fully functional when extreme weather strikes.
Part of the project has also involved cleaning up the surrounding drainage system, which had been blocked by debris and waste from the 2010 earthquake. The area near the drainage canal was once the site of a bustling market, but was abandoned due to flooding and sanitation issues. Following a community-led clean up effort, which included training for residents on effective waste management, vendors have since returned to the market site to again sell their goods.
In the Departments of Grand’Anse and Sud, UNOPS recently completed a project to build and rehabilitate a series of roads damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and make them accessible during heavy rains. Funded by the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the project included the construction of several new roads and bridges that will improve access in places where people were forced to cross rivers to reach their homes. The works ensure surrounding communities can access important public services, such as hospitals and schools, but will also enable safer evacuations for people - if and when a natural disaster happens.
Importantly, many local community members severely impacted by Hurricane Matthew were employed to work on the project, generating incomes and providing valuable learning opportunities. Women made up over 40 per cent of the project’s workforce, where they gained new skills and knowledge that will enhance their employment prospects in the future.
“Now I’m able to do this work and it’s become pretty easy for me, thanks to the training I received. I’m grateful for this project. It has given us women the chance to build our skills,” said Marie Carine François, a construction worker employed on the project.
A total of 25 kilometers of roads have been rehabilitated and more than 16,300 people were employed to complete the works.
Back in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, UNOPS has built three community hospitals to ease pressure on the city’s main hospital. The facilities are located in densely populated areas around the city and are built using sustainable materials designed to withstand shocks from earthquakes and hurricanes. The new hospitals already have a big impact, handling 8,000 consultations, 150 cesarean-sections and 400 hospitalizations each month.
“This project has not only brought quality health services to the local community, but it has become a trusted go-to institute. We can see this by the ever increasing number of hospital visits,” says Dr Emmanuel Louis Charles, a medical director at one of the hospitals.
“We used to have around 30 patients per day, whereas now the hospital receives somewhere between 120 and 150 consultations on any day of the week,” he adds.
UNOPS is providing training for medical and technical staff to ensure the country will have enough capacity to maintain and run the hospitals long into the future.
In addition, UNOPS has procured 40 ambulances and constructed an ambulance repair garage, to help strengthen local capacity and ensure the vehicles are well-maintained. Local mechanics were provided with training. A rehabilitation centre offering physiotherapy as well as visual, auditory and speech rehabilitation was also built - the first of its kind in Haiti.