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Jan 9, 2017

Getting Haitian families back on their feet

Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on rural and coastal communities, blowing over crops, flooding fields and homes, and making life more difficult and dangerous for many. With teams already living and working across the country, Mercy Corps was on the ground before, during and after the hurricane, ready to assist those that lost homes and possessions in the storm. All photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps.

Hurricane Matthew made landfall on October 4th with 145-mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain, causing flooding and severe damage to homes and fields. The storm blocked or flooded roads, limited communications and washed-out bridges, leaving already vulnerable communities inaccessible in the days after the disaster. As the winds fell and the rains ceded, we saw widespread destruction to roads and buildings, and crops and livestock were wiped out, which the majority of Haitians depend on to survive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the northern hemisphere, and many families were still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced nearly 2.3 million more. Around 60,000 people were still living in displacement camps when they were battered by Hurricane Matthew last fall.

In Arcahaie, one of our program areas, approximately 80 percent of banana crops were destroyed by winds and seawater flooding. These crops supported some 20,000 families.

The majority of Haitians rely solely on farming for food and income, and they have been hit hard: Hurricane Matthew came on the heels of the country’s worst drought in 50 years. Even before the hurricane, many people had not yet fully recovered and lacked access to the food they needed to survive.

Additionally, with many families lacking access to clean water in the aftermath of the storm, the spread of cholera is a serious threat. The country has already experienced high rates of the waterborne illness — and the significant flooding and rain brought by Hurricane Matthew significantly increase the risk of it spreading.

Mercy Corps’ emergency response
With 32 team members already on the ground in Haiti, our team had been bracing for the storm and preparing to respond, including organizing assessment teams to deploy to hard-hit areas after the storm passed. Before the hurricane arrived, Mercy Corps team members were worried about how few people knew there was a storm coming, and reached out to farmers associations and community groups to spread the word and encourage people to seek shelter. As soon as planes were cleared for landing, our emergency response team joined their colleagues in Haiti to assess the damage and immediately begin providing clean water and other items to those in need.

Three months after the storm hit, Mercy Corps continues to address the immediate needs of people affected by Hurricane Matthew. Since October, Mercy Corps has been providing water to people in need and we are now reaching five communities. We are also shifting our focus to rehabilitating water systems to replace the water trucking to create a permanent solution to water needs and to reach a broader range of communities. To prevent the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases, hygiene promotion is an ongoing activity and hygiene kits are now being distributed to reach 3,000 households with soap and safe water treatment solutions. Messages are tailored to address Haiti’s specific needs, including proper hand washing, latrine usage, and how to treat and protect water to ensure the long-term health of the community members.

Mercy Corps is also gearing up for cash distribution to over 20,000 families before the end of January. The equivalent of US$60 will be distributed to the families identified as the most vulnerable, providing each recipient with the dignity to make their own decisions and choices about what they need and when. Additionally, the cash is spent within the local economy - typically with small businesses and market traders who have also faced incredible setbacks in the wake of the hurricane. Not only will people be able to prioritize their own needs, but they are also participating in their own recovery - infusing funds into their local economy is empowering and it allows community members to take ownership of their rebuilding efforts.

Your support is making a difference
Despite the strength of the hurricane and the extent of the damage, Haitians are ready to continue the rebuilding process with clean water, healthy families, cash transfers and working markets. With so many people losing their homes, land and belongings, your support is critical to helping them recover and build back stronger.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide cash, water, shelter and support to Haitian families and others in crisis around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
  • Get your gift matched. Many companies match their employees' - and sometimes retirees' - gifts, doubling your impact and reaching even more people in need.
Apr 28, 2016

One Year Later, Recovery in Nepal Forges On

Despite many challenges, the people of Nepal are moving forward after last year's devastating earthquakes. Our team on the ground is there to help them rebuild. All photos: Tom Van Cakenberghe 

Last year, a powerful earthquake in Nepal devastated the country. As we look back, one year later, the numbers tell a story about the disaster itself, recovery efforts, and your impact.

135,000 — The number of people we reached with emergency supplies immediately after the disaster, thanks to the compassion of people like you.

7.8 — The magnitude of the initial earthquake, strong enough to shake historical sites to the ground, break roads apart and send homes sliding down Nepal’s beautiful green hillsides.

8 million — The number of people, about 40 percent of Nepal, who were affected by the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks.

Because of you, our team has been able to stand with Nepalis during this difficult time — and help them get the tools and information they need to build back stronger than before. But the road to recovery has been filled with challenges.

Monsoon season threatens recovery

After the deadly earthquakes in April and May, the monsoon season — normally from June through September — came early. Torrential rains pounded Nepal, soaking families who only had thin tarps or makeshift tents for shelter.

“The earthquake was the big event, but we still have aftershocks. The earthquake hit, and then the monsoon season came early — so just as people were forced out of their houses, the rains came pouring down,” said Jeff Shannon, director of programs in Nepal.

Rebuilding during the monsoon season was difficult. For people who could afford it, often the best they could do was purchase tin sheeting to create temporary shelters or repair areas of their damaged homes.

We offered unconditional cash to 23,000 people so they could purchase emergency supplies or buy the items needed to repair their homes or create better shelters for their families. By working with local shops, the cash transfers infused $1.7 million into the economy.

Fuel crisis slows relief efforts

Just as the monsoon season was coming to an end — offering an opportunity for the people of Nepal, and organizations like Mercy Corps, to ramp up recovery efforts — a widespread fuel crisis crippled the economy even further.

From September of last year through February, there was almost no fuel available. People were trapped, hospitals began to shut down, and medicine ran out. “Things just stopped moving around the country,” Shannon said. “Prices for everything doubled, and quadrupled. At just the moment when you wanted to rebuild and get investment going, everything came to a dead stop.”

For families who had already lost almost everything when the earthquake hit, the effects of the fuel crisis were another tough blow. Most people were already vulnerable, with little or no savings, so whatever they did have was spent quickly on food and emergency supplies.

“People had already lost their houses, their seeds, and their livestock. They couldn’t buy more of anything, because of the prices,” Shannon said. “Farmers couldn’t sell their crops because there were no trucks. So they started eating seed stock — but then you have nothing to plant. You have no money and no seeds. As a farmer, what do you do?”

Tell Congress to support smart recovery efforts for Nepal 

The prolonged fuel crisis made Mercy Corps’ work extremely difficult. Many of the earthquake’s hardest-hit areas are rural and isolated. With no fuel, it was impossible to reach them for much of that time period. The team did meet with local communities as they were able to understand their needs and lay the groundwork for a more robust, long-term response.

As the winter temperatures dropped, the needs of recovering Nepalis became even more apparent. “It was morally devastating to see that people were sleeping under tin sheets in snow, ice and freezing winter,” Shannon said. Some even went back into their crumbling houses just to escape the elements.

Despite the tremendous challenges brought on by the fuel crisis, Shannon and his team were able to distribute extra winter supplies to more than 36,000 people in need. “We were able to go out and help the really vulnerable with extra blankets.”

Fuel crisis ends, optimism begins

The fuel crisis eventually ended, and things are slowly returning to the way they were last summer. “There is a cautious sigh of relief,” Shannon said . “Prices for staples have slowly decreased — they are almost back to normal levels. Fuel supplies are much improved, but still in somewhat short supply, while cooking and heating gas is still often difficult to get.”

When fuel became available after so many months, the team in Nepal couldn’t wait to get to work helping people get back on their feet. The team shifted from only being able to work sporadically to working in the field every day since the fuel crisis ended. “Everyone’s racing just as fast as they can go,” Shannon said.

Now, our biggest goals are helping Nepalis rebuild their homes, access financial services like banking, and physically strengthen their communities against landslides, flooding and future disasters.

Nepal’s lush green hillsides are particularly vulnerable to landslides during disasters — which makes evacuating, or delivering aid, extremely difficult. “We saw more landslides in the two weeks after the earthquake than in the last five years,” Shannon said.

To strengthen those fragile areas and help Nepalis earn more income, we’re hiring locals to build infrastructure that will make the hillsides safer. Efforts like this are bringing communities together. “As an individual, I can’t make that hillside safer, but as a community we can do that — and Mercy Corps can help,” Shannon said.

We’re also working with our partners, like Build Change, again to help earthquake survivors rebuild their homes with affordable and accessible materials.

Most people in the rural, hardest-hit areas don’t have access to any financial services, so we are working with local banks to provide financial literacy training and extend their services into these areas to help Nepalis save, and invest in their homes and businesses.

Nepalis show resilience in the face of disaster

Despite the many challenges they’ve faced in the last year alone, Jeff Shannon is confident in the resilience of the people of Nepal.

“These are some of the most amazing, kind, generous and welcoming people I’ve ever met. In the midst of devastation, you saw people who were happy that they survived, happy their neighbors were there, and they were celebrating the fact that they were alive,” Shannon said.

“You go to communities where nothing is left standing, and people are putting flowers around your neck and offering you tea. The unbreakable spirit of Nepalis will see them through this. It’s awe-inspiring. They’re quite sure they’re going to get through it — and we want to be there to help them do that.”

As the people of Nepal continue their recovery, the team is working hard to help in whatever way they can. Now that the fuel crisis is over, the monsoon season is on its way — it’s a race against the clock to get as much done as possible before the rains set in.

Recovery is possible because of you

When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal last year, 50,000 people like you stepped up to donate to our emergency relief efforts. One year later, Jeff Shannon, his team, and the people of Nepal remain grateful for your compassion.

“It’s only because of the people who gave $5 that we are able to help. Because people gave, we’ve been able to build up a response that is really focused on the people in those villages who offered us cups of tea when they had no house around them,” Shannon said.

“We would never be able to do what we’re doing now if it weren’t for the people who gave at that time. All the little donations have enabled us to respond, and a year on, we’re still doing it. Thank you.

 

Photo captions - (captions correspond to photos in order of sequence from top to bottom, below):

Rom Prasad is a local leader who is helping his community remove landslide debris from the earthquake and prepare the area for future disasters. "I join this work to save our village from the danger that this landslide can pose," he said.

Adi Maya lost her home in last year's earthquake. Only the ground floor now remains, and she and her husband live in this temporary shelter. She's joined the local Mercy Corps financial lit

Links:

Feb 2, 2016

Post Quake Nepal-Research IDs Keys to Recovery

Tom Van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps
Tom Van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps

Access to financial services impacts disaster preparedness

Portland, Ore. - Nepal must build a more inclusive society, increase government accountability and build stronger financial support mechanisms in order to improve recovery efforts for future natural disasters, according to research conducted by the global organization Mercy Corps. Drawing upon lessons learned from this year’s deadly earthquake, the organization illuminates key areas in which change will be needed to make Nepal more resilient to future natural disasters.

“Nepal is very vulnerable to all types of natural disasters, including landslides and earthquakes. Mercy Corps sought to understand which factors hold the greatest promise for people to be resilient to similar events in the future, and what we could do to speed recovery,” says Olga Petryniak, Director of Regional Resilience Initiatives for Mercy Corps’ South and East Asia programs. “Each crisis may require a unique solution, but we can identify more specifically what people can do to help nations like Nepal bounce back.”

In its new report What Next For Nepal? Evidence of What Matters for Building Resilience After the Gorkha Earthquake, Mercy Corps recommends changes in several areas that are crucial contributors to resilience:

1. Disaster preparedness and response: Build greater preparedness on a community- and household-level, which will result in better accountability and faster response.

2. Social identity and networks: Because caste and gender strongly influence post-quake welfare, actively contribute to the strengthening of supportive and inclusive networks.

3. Financial services: Seek ways to establish relationships between financial service providers and households that will result in appropriate savings and credit resources.

4. Economic opportunities: Provide cash to those affected by a disaster to quickly restore markets and support livelihoods.

Mercy Corps surveyed nearly 1,200 households in Nepal 10 weeks after April’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The quake killed more than 9,000 people, destroyed a half-million homes and displaced some 2.8 million residents.

A nation in transition, Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Read or download the full report.

Links:

 
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