Since landing in Haiti two days after the Aug. 14 earthquake, United States government search-and-rescue personnel have visited about 15 communities in southern Haiti and evacuated 385 people for medical treatment, a USAID official said. Throughout, the relief agency said, it has looked to include Haitian-Americans in its response and plans to continue such partnerships.
“The Haitian diaspora [had] such an integral connection with their friends and family, colleagues in the affected communities,” Sarah Charles, an assistant humanitarian affairs administrator for USAID, said. “It’s been an invaluable source of information about where needs are, but also an invaluable part of the response in making sure that, again, we’re working very closely with organizations that are already operational on the ground.”
Several other U.S. officials, including New York Senator and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, have echoed the need to partner with Haitian-Americans who want to help families and towns in Haiti in recovery and rebuilding.
US earthquake relief response details
The official death toll from the earthquake stands at more than 2,200, with 12,268 people injured and about 30,000 families left homeless. Some people in southern Haiti towns like Les Cayes still have not received the material help they need.
“The biggest need in Les Cayes is food, a place to spend the night to sleep and medical help,” said Luders Erase, a pastor at Première Eglise Baptiste des Cayes, in a Whatsapp message.
USAID partnered with the United Nations World Food Programme to deliver emergency food assistance in the past 10 days. The organizations have provided enough food in Les Cayes to meet the monthly need for about 7,550 people, according to an Aug. 23 report.
USAID — aided by the U.S. military’s Joint Task Force-Haiti and nearly 100 disaster relief experts and rescue personnel — has also distributed more than 100,000 pounds of aid, including food, water and medical supplies. More food will arrive in the coming days, Charles said, with plans to provide 830 metric tons of food rations. That’s enough to feed 62,000 people for a month, she said.
“Our primary focus at this point is getting humanitarian assistance to those who need it most,” Charles said. “We’re very focused on medical attention, water and sanitation supplies, food, as well as shelter.”
Partnering with Haitian diaspora to help
Since the earthquake struck, USAID officials and congressional leaders have expressed a willingness to partner with the Haitian diaspora on relief efforts.
“My office stands ready to assist anyone with family in Haiti that needs help from the State Department and to help the many Haitian American aid and support organizations deliver support to their loved ones,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said soon after the earthquake.
After meeting with Haitian-American elected leaders and Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., on Aug. 21, Schumer spoke with USAID Administrator Samantha Power. He pledged to continue working with the White House to help Haitians impacted by the disaster through the aftermath.
Charles met with Haitian-led groups in the diaspora and in Haiti on Aug. 24 via conference call. Participants included Association des Membres de la Communauté, Evangélique de Mapou Haiti Renewal Alliance, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Haitian Community Partners, L’Asile Diaspora Network and Women Alliance of Miami Dade & Broward, USAID officials confirmed in an email.
The meeting with USAID was an opportunity for groups to share information and assess who is involved in earthquake relief, said Sophie Dessources, executive director of Haiti Renewal Alliance, who participated in the meeting.
“It was helpful in the sense that it allowed organizations to know what each other were doing on the ground,” Dessources said.
In an interview, Charles said it is important to support organizations working on the ground in Haiti, because such groups can purchase food and other goods to help the local economy. A long-term commitment to reconstruction is also necessary to establish in the coming weeks, she said.
Haiti Renewal Alliance President Firmin Backer, who organized the Aug. 24 meeting with USAID, said the diaspora has the technical and cultural resources to help Haiti recover.
“[USAID] really has a tendency to work with international NGOs rather than diaspora organizations with a cultural competency,” said Backer, of Washington, D.C. “We really would like USAID to work closely with the diaspora with this relief effort, [and] the long-term recovery as well.”
In the decade after the 2010 earthquake, USAID spent more than $2.4 billion on Haiti. About 54% of the funds went to contractors in the Washington, D.C. area, with 2.6% going to Haitian companies or organizations, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
During the Aug. 24 interview, Charles acknowledged the need for long-term recovery. She said USAID has not announced the amount of money it will contribute to post-earthquake recovery.
Charles said USAID has stepped up its investment in local partnerships since 2010. The agency has hired local disaster assessment and response staff, including 10 people working in earthquake-ravaged departments. USAID has also sought to strengthen its relationship with the Haitian government, particularly the Department of Civil Protection, to build response capacity.
“We’ve been investing in that for some time and working closely with those authorities,” Charles said. “The other real lesson learned, again, is to have a response informed by voices on the ground, on needs as identified by people who are in the affected communities.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated at 11:55 a.m. on Aug. 25, to include more information from Sophie Dessources, about the USAID call with diaspora leaders.