On 14 August 2021, an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 hit Haiti, affecting some 800,000 people in the south of the country. 2,200 people were killed and more than 650,000 were left in need of humanitarian assistance. Health centres, schools and homes were badly damaged.
Emergency deployment of physical rehabilitation services
Almost 12,700 people were injured in the earthquake that struck Haiti on14 August 2021. Many had broken bones or open wounds - and many had to be amputated.
"Haiti’s health system is not robust enough to deal with this kind of crisis. Many survivors don’t have access to health services, for financial reasons or because of the distance or their personal beliefs. Delays in receiving care at the time of the earthquake may have made people’s injuries worse and created a risk of permanent disability", explains Pierre-Marie Wagon, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) regional manager for the emergency response in Haiti.
Within days of the earthquake, HI was providing physical rehabilitation services in support of two hospitals, a rehabilitation centre in Les Cayes and a hospital in Camp Perrin. These services were then extended to Aquin. Between August 2021 and May 2022, over 8,400 rehabilitation sessions were delivered by HI teams for some 1,300 people.
HI distributed nearly 120 mobility aids (crutches, wheelchairs and walkers) directly to people in need. Mobile units were also deployed to deliver rehabilitation care to the most isolated populations in partnership with a local association, FONTEN. These mobile units reached more than 2,300 people.
"I was seriously injured in the earthquake and had to have my right leg amputated," says Mireille, 51, who lives in Piko. "I was given a prosthesis and now I go to the rehabilitation centre two or three times a week. These sessions really help. I still remember the first time I was able to stand on my own again. The doctors and physiotherapists helped me a lot and gave me all the information I needed. Without them, I would have been disabled for life. Now I am getting stronger and soon I’ll be able to go back to work and take care of my family again."
To help develop the capacities of local health centres and strengthen their human resources, HI provided equipment and administrative support, as well as training on early rehabilitation and the use of certain medical devices. HI also provided financial support to the centres to enable them to pay the salaries of health professionals.
Providing essential psychosocial support
The trauma caused by the earthquake affected many people's mental health. To meet their needs, HI put in place a mental health support project. Between August 2021 and May 2022, almost 1,000 individual psychosocial support sessions were organised for some 150 people.
"The shock of the earthquake and its consequences have been devastating for the population," explains Marie Tellange Lestin, community mobiliser at HI. "And they also have to cope with poverty. It was already a big problem before the disaster, but it has got worse since. Meeting daily needs can be extremely stressful. Communities need comprehensive support, both for their physical and mental health.”
HI organised community activities, such as discussion groups, games or art workshops, to help communities cope with their trauma. Between December 2021 and May 2022, more than 4,300 people attended awareness sessions. HI also ran more than 50 awareness-raising sessions in schools, for over 900 children.
Enabling access to affected areas
The earthquake triggered rockfalls and landslides that blocked roads and prevented access to many villages in the south. As a result, humanitarian aid was unable to get through. Until December 2021, HI carried out clearance operations in Les Anglais and Les Chardonnières. Some 9,000 cubic metres of earth and debris were removed so that roads could be reopened and access renewed to several villages and an important local market. This work was done by 340 members of the surrounding communities, including people with disabilities, in exchange for a daily wage. Many families benefitted directly or indirectly from the reopening of roads.
Between August 2021 and May 2022, HI also delivered almost 1,150 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to hard-to-reach areas using its boat transport system. Launched before the earthquake, this proved to be an essential means of supplying disaster areas cut off due to road conditions and security problems. More than 130 boat transport operations were carried out and HI also trained the boat crews of its Haitian partner.
Meeting the essential needs of the most vulnerable
Almost 140,000 houses were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake. Many people were left homeless, without electricity or drinking water. To help with the rising cost of basic hygiene products, HI distributed 1,500 hygiene kits to 1,500 households with one or more members with disabilities. These kits included soap, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, washing powder and sanitary protection.
The distribution of these kits was accompanied by hygiene awareness sessions, during which HI teams promoted good practices. The sessions were used to explain how to use the kits and how to reduce the risk of transmission of waterborne diseases. More than 9,000 people benefitted from the distributions and awareness-raising sessions, which ended in December 2021.
HI worked hand in hand with Haitian organisations of people with disabilities to implement its activities and identify the most vulnerable households, thereby ensuring that all the activities were accessible and took into account the specific needs of people with disabilities.