UNICEF Executive Director makes first official visit to post-earthquake Haiti
By Benjamin Steinlechner
Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, 30 September 2010 – Jant Garane and her four children have been living in a tiny shack at the Accra camp for displaced people since a massive earthquake devastated Haiti last January. The camp is home to more than 20,000 people, including some 8,000 children.
“I don’t live well,” said Ms. Garane. “There are mosquitoes that bite me and I don’t eat well. My roof leaks and I don’t have plastic sheeting to cover it.”
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake got a firsthand look at the reality facing Ms. Garane’s family and others displaced by the quake when he visited the Accra camp yesterday. Mr. Lake toured the camp’s facilities and spent time with children in one of its six ‘child-friendly spaces’ – protected areas where children can safely learn and play, which are run by the American Refugee Committee with support from UNICEF.
‘A psychological haven’
“Who could be more vulnerable than children who have not only had their homes destroyed, and perhaps lost family members, but who are now living with such horrific memories?” asked Mr. Lake.
He added that child-friendly spaces are tremendously important for children affected by the Haiti earthquake, “not only to give them some physical safety but also a psychological haven that could well shape – in many ways they might not even understand – the rest of their lives.”
Mr. Lake also spoke to the Accra camp’s staff about some of their achievements in recent months, as well as the challenges ahead.
Shelter is a priority
One of the most urgent concerns now is the future of the camp itself, which is located on privately owned land and may need to be vacated by January 2011. This added pressure is exacerbating the uncertainty that is already rife in the camp.
UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackerman said that it was essential to get displaced people back into more solid housing structures. Families living in tents remain at great risk, she said – a point that was underscored last week, when a severe storm wreaked havoc in the camp.
“They lost their houses nine months ago, and some days ago many of them lost their tents,” said Ms. Gruloos-Ackerman. “If we have another hurricane ... they will lose them again. The first priority for me is for these families to have a more solid roof.”
Reintegration into communities
Beyond such immediate concerns, UNICEF and its partners in Haiti are working on long-term income-generating projects, which aim to stimulate economic activity and increase self-reliance among the earthquake-affected population.
Mr. Lake noted that, in camps like Accra, humanitarian agencies must continue to ensure that children receive education, health care and other essential services. He cautioned, however, that “we need to do it in a way that is matched by efforts to reintegrate these people into their communities, even those who did not have homes before.”
Standing with her children at a makeshift stand in the Accra camp, where she sells fried dough balls to support her family, Jant Garane said she was waiting for a better day in Haiti – with high hopes that it will come. “I’d like to have a place to live and money to open my own business,” she said.
UNICEF is committed to ensuring that all of these hopes are realized.