Trying not to forget Haiti

Beyond the tragedy, whose ravages are far from disappearing, the earthquake in Haiti was also a lesson. And there are lessons that "are marked." With the mistakes and successes well learned, Spanish organizations are still struggling to get out of indifference one of the most battered people in the world.

"We are loved here since then, because Spain, in addition to the contribution to the funds and the larger projects, we made a very rapid mobilization," he tells Efe in a telephone conversation from Port-au-Prince Manuel Alba, general coordinator of the Technical Cooperation Office (OTC) of the Caribbean country.

And it is that our country, which at that time held the European presidency on duty, was responsible for coordinating all EU assistance. "Even El Salvador and Mexico channeled theirs through us. We received 49 cargo planes in two weeks," he recalls.

That help came to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, since the control tower of the Port-au-Prince airport was literally on the ground.

"The authorities of Santo Domingo behaved in an excellent way and we got a hangar of 50,000 cubic meters. With the support of sponsors, we managed to get transport companies to distribute the cargo throughout the country," he says.

Precisely in Santo Domingo was Manuel Alba when it happened. They were 7 devastating grades on the Richter scale. "I was talking to a co-worker and I felt the tremor; I noticed a feeling of dizziness, that everything was moving and that you fall to the ground. It is not that you throw yourself to protect yourself, it is that you fall. It moves in a way miss and you lose your balance. "

"And then I said: This looks very bad," he continues. "It was very fast, the entire United Nations building, the government palaces fell ... Ten years later that feeling still lasts ... It was a virtually total destruction."

It took only thirty minutes for the embassy to give the alarm. And in just a few hours, those used to "catch the first flight", came the Spanish firefighters. "They didn't even think about it. And they saved so many lives."

The Spanish Agency for Cooperation (Aecid) was already in Haiti before, with "classic" cooperation projects. But that January 12 "the country fell." "We had no training or experience in a humanitarian crisis of that magnitude," says Alba.

The earthquake led to more than 300,000 lives, 400,000 injured and the home of 1.5 million people. According to calculations by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 34,000 victims will have to continue permanently in the fragile temporary shelters that were built after the disaster.

A disaster that captured all the attention: the small Caribbean country "filled up." "The CNN effect was impressive." But with this came the "disorder, because the Government falls not only physically, but overflows because there is no capacity for organization or absorption of everything that was coming."

"Haiti at that time meant, in addition to everything, a lesson. Now we have permanent coordination teams, which are as latent and, if another catastrophe comes, we can organize ourselves much better," he emphasizes.


In this decade, of the "many things" that have been done, some "could have been done better" but, according to Alba, Spain has fulfilled almost all its commitments; He has dedicated around 480 million euros to them, thanks to which 200 schools have been able to be built or the most important drinking water program in Latin America.

But the truth is that Haiti "is poor, with huge governance problems and with an almost non-existent state; the earthquake was more a 'terremato', which broke into an already very weak country." A country that, in case it had not had enough, hurricanes Matthew and Irma were still waiting for it in 2016 and 2017.

For Spain, he says, Haiti remains "a priority." However, he acknowledges: "Of course we have forgotten about Haiti, because there are many other very serious global problems and this is a country that has problems, but does not exert an international influence. However, it needs a lot of help."


Barbara Vallés, head of the Spanish Red Cross delegation in Haiti, was also that January 12 in Port-au-Prince. "I had just arrived home when it happened. At that time we were a small delegation and it caught us all leaving work," he recalls from the Haitian capital.

"We didn't know what was really happening; there had been other earthquakes but we never thought what could happen," he says. As the hours passed, he began to become aware of the dimensions of the catastrophe. The people -related- came walking and listed the streets and buildings that were slowly disappearing.

At that time, the Spanish team was made up of three delegates and 16 local people, but "in the blink of an eye" they accumulated up to 40 delegates and more than 300 locations, which had to add the staff of the 59 National societies present. A total of 30 people work today.

Over these ten years they have dedicated 53 million euros to various sectors, such as water and sanitation, housing, family support or training in risk and disaster prevention if another one arrives.

"That there are many more things to do? Yes, but we did the best we could do, he says to point out:" We have done things very well and we will have made some mistake, which we will have also learned. There are lessons learned that are marked. "

Valleys trusts that "we have not forgotten Haiti because it is a wonderful country, with a very strong population and with a lot of resistance, and it deserves better than it is living". More than one million Haitians are in phase 4 of food insecurity, of a maximum of 5. That is, they eat once a day.


One of the main consequences of the earthquake was to annihilate a health system that was already precarious in itself, denounces Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Javier Fernández, project coordinator of this organization in Martissant, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince with high rates of violence, denounces to Efe that the situation "has not improved" in a decade.

Most of the time, MSF, which lost 12 of its workers in the earthquake, has to make transfers of critically ill patients for up to five hours or take a tour of different centers until they agree to assist them.

It was the case of a 12-year-old girl with a gunshot wound in the abdomen, which was rejected in several hospitals because she could not cope with the bill. In the end it was the NGO that had to assume the $ 2,000 to which it raised its attention.

"We need that in this situation of economic and political crisis that the country is going through there are more initiatives so that the country can work again," he implores.

Adaya Gonzalez


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