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Lessons from the Past

Haiti has been struck by two earthquakes in recent years. Has the humanitarian community learned from the past?

On 14 August 2021, a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. It claimed more than 2,200 lives, destroyed more than 60,000 homes, and left some 650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance.  

Images of collapsed buildings and caved-in roofs along rubble-lined streets were reminiscent of the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. While the earthquake last year was notably smaller in scale, it still caused widespread destruction and exacerbated instabilities in a country already shaken by political turmoil, violence, and increasing levels of hunger

In the months preceding the earthquake, humanitarian access had been deteriorating in Haiti due to escalating insecurity. The southern peninsula of the island, including areas affected by the disaster, was (and remains) a hotspot for gang-related violence and had been very difficult to reach even before the earthquake in August. 

The situation was alarming. This was the second major disaster to strike Haiti in recent years. The humanitarian response that followed was a pivotal moment for international aid agencies to prove that they had learnt the lessons from Haiti’s last earthquake more than a decade prior.  

Rony QuinteroThe Humanitarian Coalition, consisting of major humanitarian actors such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Plan, and others, released an evaluation report following the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent humanitarian response. They found that the most effective interventions ‘were coordinated with the receiving communities, coincided with local strategies and received support from locally recognised and respected leadership.’  

The involvement of local actors: community leaders, local organisations, as well as the beneficiaries themselves, were rightfully seen as essentials for a successful humanitarian response. This idea of localisation, codified in the Grand Bargain (GB) of 2016 and reconfirmed in 2021 with GB 2.0, has come to influence - in principle at least – humanitarian programmes around the world.   

Despite the commitment made to the localisation agenda, progress has been disappointingly slow. In particular, major international aid organisations have made limited progress towards involving local leadership in decision-making. In 2021, Tufts University issued a report analysing the state of localisation. It found that since 2016, ‘there has been progress towards localisation in some sectors and countries, but as a whole, the [humanitarian] system has fallen short of its goals of change.’ 

Rony Quintero

Building Long-term Capacity

Following the 2021 earthquake, RedR UK developed a project, funded by H2H Network, with the aim of strengthening the local response capacity in Haiti, helping affected populations to influence and access effective, timely, relevant, and equitable support.  

Through this project, RedR UK is currently delivering training which will help improve the effectiveness of the overall response in Haiti. This serves the localisation agenda by both ensuring that the most vulnerable can access life-saving assistance, as well as increasing their resilience to future disasters.  

Recognising the value and importance of local actors at every stage of humanitarian response, RedR UK has developed a series of online training modules in two phases, aimed at local responders in Haiti. This was based on a rapid learning needs analysis as well as through consultations with country experts and local collaborators in Haiti. 

The first phase reached more than 200 local actors and first responders, with modules covering: 

  • Staying effective in a humanitarian context 
  • Leadership and management in a humanitarian crisis 
  • Training of trainers for the humanitarian sector 

The second phase is currently underway, and will reach another 250 local actors, with training modules covering the following topics: 

  • Accountability to affected populations, including community engagement and communication  
  • Protection, including recognising and responding to gender-based violence  

These capacity training modules are aimed at local and national responders in Haiti, who so far have made up 98% of all participants. To allow for maximum accessibility, all of these capacity training modules are free of charge and are delivered in French, with participants receiving numerous resources for future use, both in French and Haitian Creole. 

These local and national responders are the primary direct beneficiaries, but the impact of RedR UK training does not end there. The indirect beneficiaries of the project are the affected communities in Haiti, who will receive more effective, timely, relevant, and suitable assistance from well-trained local responders. 


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