By Cynthia Fierro Harvey*
Over the course of our 70-year history in relief and recovery work around the world—from Louisiana to Indonesia—the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has learned that recovery following a catastrophic event takes time if it is to be effective. This has never been so true as it has been in Haiti since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the country on January 12, 2010. The destruction the earthquake caused is unprecedented, and our efforts in relief and recovery also must be unprecedented in terms of creativity, patience and perseverance.
Recent news reports focused on Haiti six months after the earthquake paint a picture of frustration that many of us have known firsthand these past months. But we must remember that long before the earthquake struck, Haiti already was devastated by decades of poverty and broken infrastructure. The event of January 12 accentuated already existing problems.
UMCOR has experienced many of the same frustrations that the news reports describe, particularly with regard to difficult supply and distribution chains. Poor road systems, broken roads, the lack of vehicles and other transport, and the unavailability of storage space, among other factors, converge to make relief efforts extremely complex. Haitian government restrictions have made the building of transitional and permanent structures slow and difficult, and sorting out land ownership for this purpose is also a challenge. Frankly, everything in post-earthquake Haiti is a challenge.
Yet UMCOR, along with our partners, is helping to lay a foundation we hope will sustain Haiti and support Haitians' efforts to rebuild their country and their lives.
One of UMCOR's primary partners on the ground in Haiti is the Eglise Metodiste d'Haiti (the Methodist Church of Haiti, EMH). Through it, UMCOR has not only identified areas of immediate need but also those that require long-term recovery and development. With input from EMH and other partners, UMCOR has elaborated a five-year plan that addresses both short- and long-term needs associated with education, shelter, food security, safe water, and the rebuilding of livelihoods, including microcredit, agriculture assistance, and others.
To date, 75 teams comprised of both American volunteers and Haitians are scheduled to work together in 2010 to help remove rubble and restore many areas of Haiti. In addition, UMCOR coordinates with other nongovernmental organizations under the leadership of the United Nations to address recovery challenges specific to the areas of shelter, education, livelihoods, water, and sanitation.
While the work has been painstaking, we celebrate every small step of progress. In a situation like that of post-earthquake Haiti, often the greatest gift an individual or organization can offer is the gift of presence, and UMCOR has been present from the start. News reports indicate that a total of $5.3 billion has been pledged to Haiti recovery, but it has been slow to materialize. Nevertheless, committed United Methodist congregations and individuals all over the world have contributed more than $40 million to UMCOR's Haiti Emergency fund. Of these resources, UMCOR has already earmarked more than $15 million for immediate and long-term relief.
These relief funds provide clean water, food aid, medical care, school tents, and health kits; support community health projects, rehabilitation, and prosthesis programs; help clear rubble; and repair damaged schools, orphanages, homes, and places of worship. They are used to build transitional shelters and schools, and to equip schools, teachers, and students with furniture, school kits, and other educational supplies. They also are destined for the development of livelihoods programs focused on long-term, sustainable economic recovery and food security; and to support Haitian medical evacuees, their families, and communities in the United States.
But how are we to overcome the hurdles and address the challenges that lie in our path? We must do what faith communities have been called to do for centuries—feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty for as long as it takes. We can blame government, the lack of infrastructure, and red tape for the difficulties and impediments, but that is not productive. The one thing that is not only productive but fruitful is to remain faithful to our call to love our neighbor.
Today, I celebrate the faithfulness of United Methodists and of all people of goodwill who have responded with extravagant generosity to UMCOR's call for solidarity with the people of Haiti; who continue to be patient and to persevere as, together, we navigate a landscape of hope in Haiti like none before.
To learn more, please visit UMCOR's Haiti Emergency page at umcor.org. To support UMCOR's relief and recovery work in Haiti, please visit www.umcorhaiti.org.
*Cynthia Fierro Harvey is the head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).