The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in January brought suffering and destruction to a country that was already facing major development challenges. In the tragedy’s wake, members of a Haitian network of community action groups, or Initiative Committees (ICs), mobilized to support national and international relief efforts. Developed over more than a decade with NDI support, the ICs have operated in 179 municipalities across the country and involve 35,000 Haitians and 3,500 civic organizations, including 400 women's groups.
Before the earthquake, the IC network organized communities to conduct damage assessments after hurricanes, repair roads, facilitate medical treatment, provide potable water, and promote transparency in government development projects.
Shortly after the quake, some ICs contacted NDI and said their members, despite their personal losses, were eager and committed to helping international and Haitian government rescue and relief efforts connect directly with communities to assess damage, target relief and assist with the temporary resettlement of displaced persons.
IC members helped families evacuate their houses and establish camps for displaced people, worked with local authorities and non-governmental organizations to facilitate the aid distribution, select host sites for thousands of people leaving devastated Port-au-Prince and conduct a census of the displaced and injured.
As relief activities shifted into the medium and long term, the ICs focused on helping citizens to learn about available assistance and reach out to elected officials and the international community to resolve unmet needs. With support from USAID and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, NDI worked with the ICs to establish 12 citizen-run information centers around the country serving areas directly damaged by the earthquake and locations with large numbers of displaced persons. By the middle of May, these information centers had received 1,774 visitors, including 429 women. The centers disseminate information on resources for displaced persons as well as relief and reconstruction plans, put citizens in touch with local government officials, and increase transparency and oversight for long-term local rebuilding efforts.
Similarly, NDI began assisting women's organizations seeking to help women and children in displaced persons camps. These groups began raising awareness about potential violence against women and girls, launching campaigns to prevent HIV/AIDS and establishing special health and safety measures to protect women. With support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NDI has partnered with these groups to set up three women’s support centers in Martissant/Fontamara, Petit Goâve and Jacmel.
"The extraordinary Haitians who comprise this network of community groups are grassroots activists, leaders in their own cities, towns and villages, who are uniquely positioned to identify and coordinate emergency community needs with local Haitian authorities and international aid organizations," said Jim Swigert, NDI's senior associate for Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Former NDI Haiti Director Gerard Latulippe talks about surviving the earthquake and NDI’s ongoing work»
- NDI offers profound sympathy to Haitian people»
- Contribute to the NDI Haitian staff and family disaster assistance fund»
Pictured above:NDI Program Officer Jude Judy and Citizen Participation Director Aaron Azelton meet with members of the Communal Coordination Committee of Limbé in the north to discuss launching a citizen information center there.
This article was updated on May 25, 2010. It was originally Published February 3, 2010.