2 minute readInternational

The Real Story of the 6 Homes in Haiti: Answering Your Questions

This piece was written by David Meltzer, Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross. He has traveled to Haiti more than 20 times—both before and after the earthquake— including in the days after the disaster struck.

Our objective in all of our humanitarian work is to alleviate suffering of those in need—particularly those most vulnerable. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the needs were great and like other aid groups, we faced difficult choices about where to best spend money as quickly and effectively as possible.

Did the American Red Cross only build “6” new permanent homes?  Yes, these were part of a pilot project outside of Port-au-Prince. As the project progressed, we learned a number of lessons that helped us revise our long-term shelter plans. The solutions we decided on ultimately helped more people than can be served through new construction efforts and could be implemented faster, helping people living in camps get back into safer homes and conditions sooner.

Did we plan to build more new homes? Yes, plans for three different communities of new homes funded by the American Red Cross were developed, of which two were outside of Port-au-Prince. In all three cases, there were competing claims of land ownership and clear land title couldn’t be established. We also learned that new housing communities built outside Port-au-Prince often remained unoccupied because people strongly preferred to move back into the neighborhood they lived in before the quake – near their jobs, schools and family.

Did we help 132,000 Haitians obtain safe and improved housing? Yes. In the days following the earthquake, the Red Cross provided emergency shelter in the form of 860,000 tarps to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Of course, living underneath a tarp or tent is only a short term solution, so the American Red Cross developed plans to provide medium- and long-term housing.

  • Working with partners such as Habitat for Humanity, Handicap International and others, the American Red Cross provided more than 6,100 transitional homes for nearly 31,000 people and more than 25,000 people received upgraded and progressive shelters.
  • Prior to the quake, a large percentage of residents in Port-au-Prince rented their homes and camp residents who were renters before the quake asked for secure safe rental housing. With American Red Cross funding, more than 5,400 households, received rental subsidies which enabled them to move out of camps and into homes. Additionally, understanding the need for more safe rental properties, the American Red Cross helped homeowners add rooms to their houses to increase housing stock in the area. These owners provide these new spaces rent free for one year to a family living in a camp.  To date, over 54,000 people have benefitted from these repair, rental subsidy and retrofitting programs.
  • Finally, nearly 22,000 people to date are benefitting from major neighborhood redevelopment and owner-managed construction initiatives including safe construction training, allowing them to repair and expand their own homes and obtain high-demand job skills to help support themselves in the future.

Housing a relatively small number of people in newly constructed homes that unfortunately could not be quickly built given the uncertainty of clear land title was inconsistent with our mission to quickly and effectively alleviate suffering. In response to these challenges, the American Red Cross chose to focus its housing work on alternatives that offered many more people the opportunity to move into safe and improved housing. We stand by that decision.

To learn more about our recovery program in Haiti and to hear from those we have helped and continue to help, please visit our Haiti Assistance Program page.

 

The Red Cross reports annually how we spend donor dollars on our website and break it down according to sector. We raised $488 million for our work in Haiti and here is how our spent and committed funds have been allocated:

  • Emergency relief: $66 million
  • Shelter: $173 million
  • Health: $73 million
  • Water and sanitation: $47 million
  • Livelihoods: $48 million
  • Disaster preparedness: $56 million
  • Cholera prevention: $25 million

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  1. As a recently trained volunteer Disaster responder with the American Red Cross, and an experienced project leader in developing nation organizations, I fully support the iterative and constant need for assessing and evaluating any ongoing situation, in order to be most adaptable in responding to it as it unfolds. While operating under extreme conditions, it is not always possible to write up precisely what is going on, at the precise moment it occurs. Often, circumstances bring about cumulative anecdotes of data and information that require reassessment of response. The American Red Cross is expert at planning, preparing, and responding within its own borders and culture, and had to react quickly to alleviate suffering in a setting more unknown than known, as we learned over the land ownership issues that could not be resolved quickly or easily.

    While on a map a near neighbor, Haiti remains one of the poorest nations in our hemisphere. Much that has been put in place since the earthquake is an improvement for many on what was there before. And, as in any evolving crisis, new and often incomplete information leads to constant pressure to make the best decisions possible as to use of resources that will do the most good for the greatest number.

    In my first few months deploying as a volunteer, I can attest to the constant reminders to both staff and volunteers to keep precise data on expenditures. Accountability is just as important as the execution of our mission. One must allow for sometimes extreme differences when operating in foreign settings. It takes time to build trust with local leaders, gain access to critical information and infrastructure, and build lasting relationships that can lead to implementing better and more resilient planning and preparedness within a community, region, or nation.

    The greatest asset is learning from what we do. How can we do better? What have we learned so we can do better next time? Every good learning organization asks itself these questions every time. The American Red Cross does this with a firm commitment to integrity and accuracy, in my albeit somewhat limited experience on the ground. Criticism is easy from the sidelines, but living, interacting, and acting within any unfamiliar or disaster setting is altogether another type of experience. We must support and allow for the learning curve on the ground, while demonstrating constant transparency and accountability to the greatest degree possible at the time. This degree will vary greatly depending on the reporting cycle, manpower in place allotted to do just that, and reliability of communications equipment at ground zero.

    As for me, I am certain there are invaluable lessons learned constantly on all sides, and see in place the commitment to strong reporting and training. I am proud to put my time, talent, and trust in such a committed, caring learning organization. I have faith in the learning curve when people of honor respond to others in need. I hope you will have faith in me as I continue to serve, grow, learn, and respond with what I have found to be an exemplary organization.