Haiti update: Recovery begins on La Gonâve

November 1, 2016
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Kristin Myers

With several Concern aid distributions underway, the people of La Gonâve have begun the long, arduous process of recovery after Hurricane Matthew.

In 2009, only months before the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, Concern Worldwide had just delivered a backhoe (a type of mechanical digger) to the island of La Gonâve. It was a symbol of community empowerment and possibility, intended to rehabilitate an essential stretch of road between the island’s commercial center, Anse-à-Galets, and the community of Les Étroits. The distance between the two communities is only about seven miles, but the motorbike ride could take as long as two hours, depending on how recently it had rained.

Once commonly called “The Hell Road,” it would from then on be known as “The Sweet Road.”

Then, on January 12, the earthquake struck. Damage was minimal on the island itself, but La Gonâve became a haven for tens of thousands seeking refuge, straining its already limited resources.

In the years since the earthquake, most of the displaced have returned home, and work on the road started up once again. Concern worked with the local government and community members — including two specially trained drivers — and completed work in mid-2011. Once commonly called “The Hell Road,” it would from then on be known as “The Sweet Road.”

Now, seven years after it arrived, the Concern backhoe is once again being put into service.

A backhoe on a road

This backhoe, originally donated by Concern Worldwide in 2009, is once again being put to work on the island of La Gonâve in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Cash-for-work

Currently, the backhoe is working on rehabilitating 2,200 meters of road on La Gonâve. Of this, 1,200 meters will reopen the critical road that connects Anse-à-Galets and Points-à-Raquettes, the two main towns on La Gonâve. While the work will rely on machinery like the backhoe to do much of the heavy lifting, Concern is also employing many community members. These construction workers — some of whose livelihoods were destroyed by the hurricane — will work on the roads as part of a cash for work scheme.

“We need to get people into safe shelters and provide them with opportunities to restart their livelihoods so that they can back up on their feet”.

An additional 1,000 meters of road between Anse-à-Galets and Palma will also be rebuilt. This road is crucial; with a main market in Palma, many rely on the road for business and trade.

Aid distributions have also continued on La Gonâve, though with the roads still impassable, getting supplies to communities most in need has been no easy feat.

The remote area of Latanye on the island of La Gonâve was completely flooded after Hurricane Matthew.

The remote area of Latanye on the island of La Gonâve was completely flooded after Hurricane Matthew. Nearly a quarter of homes were partially or completely destroyed. Boats had to be used to evacuate people from their homes. Photo: Kristin Myers

“The work is made very difficult by the state of the roads, which makes transporting supplies — or even just getting our teams out and about — very challenging,” says Peter Doyle, Concern’s Emergency Response Manager.

“The recovery process will take months, if not years. Many families have lost everything and so will have to start from scratch again,” he said.

“We have to use a mixture of road and sea travel, but travel times can be very long, especially as we have to transport supplies in sail boats,” Doyle explained. “Then supplies have to be offloaded on smaller boats as there are no wharfs in many places.”

Starting from scratch

So far, through four distributions, Concern has given supplies to thousands living in Grand Vide, Chien Kontan, Trou le Jeune and Port Trou-Louis. The hygiene kits, aqua tabs, blankets, and tarps will go a long way to help the people of La Gonâve begin the recovery process. But Peter cautions that there is still much work to be done.

“The recovery process will take months, if not years. Many families have lost everything and so will have to start from scratch again,” he said.

“We need to get people into safe shelters and provide them with opportunities to restart their livelihoods so that they can back up on their feet”.

A woman with buckets

A woman receives non-food items (NFIs) at a distribution in Trou Louis on the island of La Gonave. Photo: Leguenson Jules-Saint

Concern will soon be doing more distributions on the island, and there are plans to expand the cash-for-work program to include over 1,000 heads of households. Our water and sanitation teams are finishing assessments of infrastructure and badly damaged sanitation and water facilities so they can be repaired. For families whose homes were lost or destroyed, Concern is planning shelter repair. Though the recovery process will be long, Concern plans to support the communities on La Gonâve as they rebuild their lives after the devastating impact of Hurricane Matthew.


 

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