January 3 2012

PRESS RELEASE: Haiti two years after the devastating earthquake - Help must continue

03/01/2012 - On 12 January 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti claiming the lives of more than 230,000 people and affecting three million others. Significant progress has been made in reconstructing Haiti. Nevertheless, the country remains closer to a state of emergency and not close enough to a path of stability and a future that offers opportunities. In 2011, SOS Children's Villages helped to address the problem and began constructing new schools and expanded long-term social programmes for children and families.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
The collapsed cathedral in the centre of Port-au-Prince more than obviously reminds of the earthquake - Photo: Sophie Preisch
In joint initiatives with other international NGOs (including Save the Children, World Vision, Plan, Care and the International Rescue Committee, among others), in 2011 SOS Children's Villages has appealed to the EU and the UN Security Council to systematically continue their efforts while also supporting the Haitian government under President Michel Martelly.

The protection of population groups who are especially exposed to certain risks, such as women, children and adolescents, and the awareness for their needs must be given top priority, along with the creation of an inclusive social safety net, stronger participation of the general population and building up communal resources.

"Otherwise", says Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children's Villages, "Haiti, which is at a crossroads and has a chance of managing a turnaround, will take the wrong turn and be thrown back even further in its development than it has ever been. Those of us who have committed ourselves to helping the people of Haiti must make good on our promises, even if true consolidation is still years away. The people here must be able to see and feel that things are going in the right direction and that they can participate and take responsibility."

SOS Children's Villages, which has been active in Haiti as a locally embedded organisation since 1978, is concentrating its long-term reconstruction efforts on children without parental care, on the support of families at community level and on schools. SOS Children's Villages began the step-by-step transition from an emergency relief programme to permanent social programmes in 2010. During the first twelve months following the earthquake, SOS Children's Villages provided tens of thousands of children with food every day, giving medical care where needed and providing shelter to unaccompanied children.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
This boy lives in an SOS family after he has lost his family in the earthquake - Photo: Sophie Preisch
Number of abandoned children still high

Today some 130 additional children are still living in the SOS Children's Village Santo. To provide long-term care, a second SOS Children's Village will be necessary in Port-au-Prince. In 2012 a further programme for children without parental care will commence in Les Cayes, in the south of the country. Twenty children were placed in the SOS Children's Village at Cap Haïtien. SOS Children's Villages Haiti is concerned that the number of abandoned children is still very high - an alarming indicator that, due to poverty and impossible living conditions, families are no longer able to provide for themselves. SOS Children's Villages constantly receives requests to admit more children, but has only limited capacity to offer quality family-based care in SOS families.

The lives of many abandoned children in Haiti are dire. The conditions in most orphanages are catastrophic; measures to ensure children's rights are respected should be enforced as soon as possible. SOS Children's Villages is in a position to provide its ample expertise to work on the urgently needed improvement of the quality of care for, and the legal situation of, abandoned children together with government authorities and other NGOs.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
SOS Children's Villages is rebuilding this community school in Santo while lessons are given in tents - Photo: Sophie Preisch
Seven new schools under construction

SOS Children's Villages supports disadvantaged families in Port-au-Prince, Cap Haïtien and soon in Les Cayes. The main objective is to strengthen the resources of the communities in order to help families support themselves and to support women in particular. An additional focal point is the expansion and construction of schools and the provision of quality teacher training. In total, SOS Children's Villages is financing the construction of a community school and four public schools in Santo and the area of Les Cayes; furthermore, two new SOS Schools will accommodate a total of 1,000 students at each of these locations. Comprehensive training courses in child-centred education are being offered for teachers in cooperation with the University Quisqueya.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
Unaccompanied dhildren are especially vulnerable and need special protection and care (these boys were admitted to the SOS Children's Village in Santo after the earthquake) - Photo: Sophie Preisch
Situation in the camps is critical

Over the last two years, the government of Haiti, the international community, international NGOs and countless aid initiatives have contributed to erasing the devastation left by the earthquake. Reconstruction on this scale is an exceedingly complex and time-consuming process, even more so when the country has a long history of permanent political, social and economic crises.

The situation is especially precarious in the temporary shelters and urban slums. According to the most recent Humanitarian Bulletin issued by OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 550,000 people were still living in over 800 camps under worsening hygienic conditions (there were 1.7 million in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake). Cholera remains a serious threat in the camps - and not just there. Reports about a massive growth in the number of acts of violence and sexual attacks on children and women are also alarming.

The food security situation of an estimated 4.6 million Haitians - that's about 45% of the population - is unsatisfactory according to OCHA, though there is reason to expect some relief from the coming harvest. Food prices remain high. Massive investment in the education system is required for the construction of schools, the training of teachers and the eradication of school fees that restrict school access for many of Haiti's poorest families.