Haiti Earthquake Worsening Situation for at-risk Women and Girls

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Goldin Global Fellow, Haiti

On August 14th, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake on the south west of the island, which caused serious havoc to the populace residing there. The government of Haiti was not prepared for this kind of disaster. The people are now once again in urgent need of assistance and support; emergency relief is required right now.

The earthquake took place in the south west of the country, in a remote and rural area of Haiti which is difficult for many organizations and people to reach, including the government. We know that the international community are trying to help but there are a lot of people who are in need. Though we are still dealing with some of the remnants of the 2010 earthquake, we hope that there have been some lessons learnt from the disaster response during that situation, particularly in the channeling of resources.

We do not want a situation again where the money goes to big international organizations, and very little gets allocated to the local people who have actually been impacted.

Organizations like KOFAVIV, who have networks on the ground can reach those populations most affected by the earthquake, including those who live deep in the countryside. KOFAVIV also have beneficiaries who reside in that region, which is further heartbreaking for us; with the assistance of the Goldin Institute we supported some of the victims of sexual violence who were residing in the capital to relocate to the more rural areas, to escape the ongoing violence, threats and instability which is symbolic of the capital. But now, these beneficiaries are experiencing a different type of instability as their homes have been destroyed, making the situation extremely difficult for them. The storm which followed the earthquake has further compounded their struggles; no one has tents for shelter or refuge.

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At KOFAVIV, our focus now is on responding to the women and girls who are experiencing violations resulting from the insecurity of the earthquake. As more people are on the streets, perpetrators have more access to women and girls and there is little protection for potential victims as they are unhoused or without shelter. The epicenter of the earthquake was not Port-au-Prince but we feel the aftershocks there. There were a lot of people on the streets and every time they feel the shocks people are scared, and they have to stay outside. It is a very catastrophic situation right now. These people desperately need some relief efforts.

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We are now seeing a situation in Martissant, close to Port-Au-Prince, where the government cannot even operate, due to gangs controlling the territory. So if we have a victim in that area it is really difficult for us to give them assistance or access them. If a woman or girl has been violated, we ordinarily allocate them a support worker who assists them with medical and healthcare and would check-in with them regularly but this is becoming almost impossible to do in the areas where gangs are active.

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I want to take this opportunity to call on the international community to also address the gang violence and control in their relief activities. It is very frustrating that gangs are the ones who are controlling the region, where it seems like the government is completely absent. Gangs are chasing women and girls from their homes, and once they do so these gangs then steal their belongings and begin to occupy their homes. Now there is the earthquake, and these victims need basic needs, but the gangs make it very difficult to offer any respite for them.

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My advice to international funders and donors is to support local NGOs and local private organizations in Haiti. Local organizations cannot access aid relief as this is often dominated by larger international organizations. Local organizations who know the place and the people are the ones who should be centred in the relief response; we hope that this time the international community work with the smaller local organizations.

The international community should additionally support in tacking gang activities. One way is to help the local police department in Haiti by giving them equipment as it is said that the gangs have bigger weapons than the police, and since we know the international community is making decisions in the country in terms of political governance, then they should also be responsible in other areas especially peacekeeping. The gang operations take place across the country through networks and connections, and this has made disaster relief a greater challenge. A country should not be working like this.

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