Much yet to be done in Haiti, says Hannify

By Ray O'Hanlon

Haiti marks six months this week since the Caribbean island nation was devastated by a massive earthquake,

And though he would rate much of the emergency relief work as a success, Darren Hanniffy, country director in Haiti for the Irish relief agency GOAL, told the Echo that the work of full recovery was still only at the beginning and would take years.

"Much has been written and documented about the desperation, the smell of death, the loss and the suffering in those initial weeks following the quake.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

"Despite this, I found no words were able to express the overwhelming sense of shock and disbelief in the faces

of the survivors as I walked through the rubble-filled streets the day after the disaster," Hanniffy said in a message emailed from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

"I watched loved ones desperately digging for signs of life, others wandering aimlessly around what was once their home or perhaps most sadly of all, the pain and anguish in the faces of those carrying away the crushed bodies of their family."

Six months on from the disaster (the earthquake struck on January 12) GOAL is now firmly established in Haiti, Hanniffy, a former Offaly hurler, said.

"The organization has achieved a lot, and there is a lot more that we intend to do. To the untrained eye, it might seem that very little has changed over the past six months. Port- au-Prince is still lying in ruins. The vulnerability of the people remains palpable.

"So far, however, the emergency response has been a success," he said.

Specifically, he added, enough plastic sheeting has been distributed to protect the hundreds of thousands of homeless people against the rains.

This is now the rainy season in Haiti and, more critically, the Hurricane season.

"Food has been distributed throughout the community. For its part, GOAL managed to feed almost 500,000 alone. Clean water is accessible for the majority of people and cash is being injected into the community through cash to work programs that are being used to take away the rubble.

"Most importantly, and the ultimate reason why we consider the response to be a success thus far, there has been no

major outbreak of disease."

The task now, said Hanniffy, was to rebuild the devastated capital.

"This is the major challenge. We must accept that it will take years. The Haitian government's capacity has been badly affected. The earthquake destroyed most of the government buildings and killed many key staff that would have been involved in managing the reconstruction.

"Without clear direction, without a rebuilding policy, and without leadership, the reconstruction will be haphazard.

The international community needs to focus on this area now and a more holistic urban planning approach needs to be adopted if we are to maximize the opportunity that the funding for reconstruction affords us," he said.

For Hanniffy, the six months since the earthquake have offered few moments for standing back and taking stock of anything other than his daily and often nightly work.

"At precisely 5 p.m. on January 12 I was sitting at my desk in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. We were at the end of another working day and I was preparing a report for our team in (GOAL's) head office in Dublin outlining the progress that we had made on several issues that week," he recalled.

"At the same time, and just a few short hours away from my office, Haiti was being rocked by a massive earthquake. In just 35 seconds the capital city of Port-au-Prince was almost completely flattened. 220,000 people were dead and another 300,000 lay crushed and injured by the falling debris.

"About 10 minutes after the event I received a call from a colleague informing me that 'something big' had happened in Haiti. In less than one hour a decision was made that GOAL should respond, and just seven hours later I was on making my way by private plane to the Haitian capital.

"GOAL had no presence in Haiti at the time, but within days, a 15-strong disaster response team had already begun to establish what was to become one of the agency's biggest ever post-disaster operations," Hanniffy said.