Faster progress cannot be made in the aid efforts because the currently precarious situation has stopped all travel to the country
The earthquake that shook Haiti on 14 August 2021 has plunged the country into extreme poverty. The assassination of its president this past July only exacerbated a situation that was already precarious. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Rafael D’Aqui, head of sections for Latin America at ACN, talks about the current situation in the country and the challenges this presents for the pontifical foundation, which immediately approved emergency relief projects.
How has the situation developed in Haiti since the earthquake?
The situation after the earthquake remains difficult: in many regions, the people are sleeping outside or in tents, the priests are staying in the homes of parish members or in cars. There are shortages of water, electricity, food, clothing, medicine… A large part of the population is traumatised. Many church buildings and diocesan institutions have sustained partial damage or have even been completely destroyed. About 70 parishes have had to buy tents in order to be able to continue their work. Added to this are the uncertainty and violence that make it even more difficult to offer any effective assistance.
What was the situation like before the earthquake?
The situation in the country has been unstable for the last two to three years. The cities and the streets are controlled by various gangs, armed robberies and kidnappings are being carried out among the populace, lorries are being raided, etc. Already precarious, the situation deteriorated even further after the president was assassinated in his own home in early July. Furthermore, the country has been suffering from severe drought and water shortages as well as extreme poverty, particularly in rural areas.
What is the organisation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) doing locally and what is the impact of this aid?
As a first step, ACN asked the dioceses that are affected to take stock of the situation and the damage in order to be able to propose appropriate aid measures. It then approved an emergency aid budget for projects in Haiti. In the diocese of Jérémie, 134,400 dollars have already been granted for the distribution of emergency aid (tents, food, drinking water, medicine, etc.) among priests, religious and pastoral workers and their families in 16 parishes.
What work does ACN still have to do in Haiti?
At the moment, we are still in the first phase, which involves emergency aid. However, at the same time we are working on our strategy for the second phase, or reconstruction. We will do this together with other Church organisations, which have expressed the wish to be involved in the rebuilding of the country.
This is the third time that ACN is working with these organisations, following the earthquake in 2010 and the hurricane in 2016. This second phase begins with the technical appraisal of the damage. Then, we will choose which buildings most urgently need to be rebuilt. This will take several months. We are also looking into the possibility of supporting projects aimed at healing in faith the wounds and trauma inflicted by the difficult situation because we have to help the people regain hope.
What are the greatest obstacles to your work?
On the one hand, the precarious situation makes it impossible to travel to the country, which means that we cannot experience the situation first-hand. Our communication is limited to the internet or the telephone. On the other hand, it is a challenge to completely assess the damage to the buildings and quickly get these rebuilt in a short period of time. After all, this must be done in compliance with the guidelines for earthquake and cyclone safety. We also have to make sure that all the materials are available. Currently, due to local shortages, these are being brought in from other countries.
How will the work of Aid to the Church in Need continue?
ACN will continue to support the Church in Haiti and the people there with prayers and solidarity. For years now, our sympathy has been with these people who are suffering from poverty and abandonment as well as instability and violence. They have found incomparable and, in these times, indispensable support in the faith and the work of religious sisters, priests and lay pastoral workers.
ACN is currently involved in more than thirty projects to support the work of the Church in Haiti. Among other things, the organisation has just approved emergency aid for the distribution of tents, food, drinking water and medicine as well as for the most urgent repairs on ten parish houses in the diocese of Jérémie to ensure the coordination of the social and pastoral work of the parishes following the earthquake that occurred in the diocese on 14 August 2021.