January 11 2012

Most vulnerable must not be forgotten

Two years after the earthquake in Haiti the most vulnerable are still at risk, if aid wanes

At least half of the over 220,000 casualties during the earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010 were children. Many of those that have survived the turmoil of the past two years have been abandoned by families no longer able to provide for them due to poverty and impossible living conditions. Girls, in particular, face extensive sexual violence in makeshift camps. Over 500,000 people still living in camps endure worsening conditions as donor funding and interest in Haiti's reconstruction wanes. Plan International, SOS Children's Villages and World Vision call on the European Union (EU) to consider the protection of children and the economic and social support for their families in Haiti a top priority.

11/01/2012 - In January 2010, over two million people were affected by the devastating earthquake in Haiti, leaving many homeless. 1.5 million were children. Although the number of Haitians living in camps has decreased by 66 per cent from a July 2010 peak of 1.5 million, the ones now left in the camps are the most vulnerable to new natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, as well as economic hardship. Children and adolescents are exposed to malnutrition and violence; they report of physical and sexual abuse, of broken homes and parents who are not able to find work. The greatest child protection risks witnessed in Plan's operational areas have been in the crowded and unsanitary camps. Girls and women have been especially exposed to attack on their way to the washing facilities. According to World Vision research, over half of the children registered at official border check points last year were travelling in dangerous conditions (without documents, hidden in vehicles, or clearly handled by smugglers). Many of these children are at risk of sexual or labour exploitation.

Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children's Villages, states: "The conditions are catastrophic: measures to ensure children's rights are respected should be enforced as soon as possible. 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."

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, US$ 231 million are required for 2012 to address immediate unmet necessities and to carry out longer-term projects. In 2011, half of the financial needs were not met. Although the EU has given strong support to Haiti in the past, it must now continue to prioritise Haiti, and rise to the level of other world leaders. Aid initiatives have contributed to erasing the devastation left by the earthquake in Haiti; many children have benefited from these services. Yet reconstruction on this scale is an exceedingly complex and time consuming process, even more so when a country has a long history of permanent political, social and economic crisis.

Plan, SOS Children's Villages and World Vision have implemented measures to protect children and adolescents in child-friendly spaces, through emotional and psychosocial support, reunification of separated children with their families, and child-trafficking prevention. Children in Haiti have received food, medical care and shelter. Massive investment, however, is required to assist the Government of Haiti in fulfilling its responsibility and taking leadership on shelter, healthcare, education and economic growth.

As Plan's director in Haiti, John Chaloner, confirms: "Haiti is a very young nation with around half of its population aged under 18. There are many vulnerable young people at risk if we allow this to become simply 2010's forgotten crisis."

Therefore full social protection should be prioritised, in particular for Haitian girls, including safe, quality education, economic opportunities for young people, campaigns targeting child rights, gender-based violence, youth pregnancy and work rights. US$ 7.3 million alone will be required to ensure an enrolment of 80 per cent of the children between four and 14 years of age who live in temporary camps and shelter.

Jean Claude Mukadi, World Vision Haiti's National Director, says:  "I envision a Haiti where children and youth are given the opportunity to dream and to have hope for the future; where they are loved, cared for, protected, and where they are provided with the opportunity to express themselves and to participate in the reconstruction of their country."

Plan, SOS Children's Villages and World Vision therefore call on the EU to allocate necessary funds to the long-term reconstruction of Haiti, and particularly the protection of children.