Monday, 8 April 2013

Prayer and action in Haiti

Somewhat to the horror of most of my family, because of the dire health and security situation there, my brother is in Haiti at the moment, as part of a New Zealand team helping to build (my brother is a french-speaking builder inter alia) a school in a community not far from Léogâne, the epicentre of the 2010 earthquake.

Accordingly, I'd like to ask for your prayers for their health, safety and work.

The earthquake and aftermath

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti devastated what was already the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

According to Caritas Australia, two-thirds of Haitians live below the poverty line and are unemployed, while 78 percent live on less than $2 per day. Just 20 percent of Haitian children attend primary school and less than 2 percent graduate from secondary school. Forty-two percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from moderate to severe stunting as a result of malnutrition.

On top of that, the earthquake left around 220,000 people dead and nearly a third of the Island's population of 9.7 million homeless.

Since 2010, things have only gotten worse.  By October last year, only half the ruble left by the earthquake had been cleared from the capital, Port-au-Prince.  Even now, half a million people are still living in tents.  And aid workers have become bogged down in addressing basic needs, and above all attempting to contain a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands.

The failure of the aid effort

The biggest cause of the failed recovery process has been the weak and ineffectual nature of the Government there.  Political infighting, corruption and bureaucracy have delayed and bogged down reconstruction efforts on many fronts. Things finally seem to be changing on that front, but it has been a long struggle.

But part of the problem has been a failure of the aid process itself.  Poor co-ordination and competing interests, a lack french-speakers and appropriately skilled and trained staff, and lack of engagement with local communities have all been major problems according to one assessment.

There are also numerous claims of misdirected expenditure: one report claimed, for example, that "A lot just wasn't responding to needs on the ground. Millions were spent on ad campaigns telling people to wash their hands. Telling them to wash their hands when there's no water or soap is a slap in the face."

Dangers for aid workers

A key problem is finding willing, properly skilled aid workers: such people tend to become a tad scarce when thousands are dying from cholera, a disease against which immunisation is not a 100% effective (the best it can claim is to reduce the risk of death by 50% in the first year).  According to the Australian Government travel advisory website:

"There is an ongoing cholera outbreak in Haiti which has been active since 2010. Cases are expected to continue to rise, particularly following rainy seasons and hurricanes. The outbreak is especially severe in the Artibonite province and has spread to the capital Port-au-Prince and other areas of Haiti. Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been infected...."

The website also suggests people to 'reconsider their need to travel' to Haiti, due to 'the unpredictable security situation, including lawlessness and high levels of violent crime, and severely damaged infrastructure following the earthquake in January 2010'.  It also notes that "Foreign aid workers have been the target of kidnapping, and other violent crimes..."

A deeply Catholic country

 Despite an ongoing struggle with proponents of Voodoo, Haiti is a deeply catholic country: 7.4 million of its population of 10.2 million are Catholics as a result of a mission effort that started in 1511.

Haiti has around 400 diocesan priests and 300 seminarians, so no scarcity of vocations!

The Church was hurt badly by the earthquake though - the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, a seminary, and some archdiocesan offices sustained major damage in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the earthquake claimed the lives of Port-au-Prince's Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and his chancellor, as well as many seminarians and religious.

Want to help?

Accordingly, prayers for the teams working in Haiti, especially this one, would be welcomed!

If you would like to donate to the aid effort there, there are a number of options.  New Zealanders can feel a special empathy perhaps for those afflicted by earthquakes, and my brother commented that the experience might help put the Christchurch situation in some perspective!  You can read more about his hopes for the trip, and how to support the New Zealand charity involved, the Kenbe Le Foundation, over here.

Alternatively, Caritas Australia is also sponsoring a number of projects in Haiti.

Health update

PS On a not entirely unrelated subject, for those who prayed for my own health, I'm glad to say I've dramatically improved over the last few weeks and am almost back to normal, as you may have gathered from the frequency of posting.  Probably not the end of the story unfortunately, but at least for the moment.  So thank you to all who have prayed, written or provided the wherewithal to obtain reading material over the last few months, it has been very much appreciated.


Maureen said...

The link to your brother's blog doesn't work - I would have liked to have read it!

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Maureen - now fixed.