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Remembering the Haiti Earthquake: Resilience and Resolve Nine Years Later

Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake

January 12 will mark nine years since Haiti suffered the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country.

Destruction caused by the earthquake

At the time, our in-country Water Mission team included just five people. When the earthquake struck, four of our staff members were driving through the mountains back to Port-au-Prince — Haiti’s capital and largest city — after visiting communities in southern Haiti.

“I was driving, and then I felt the car shaking,” Aristil Frenel, our staff driver at the time, told us. “I thought it was a flat tire because we didn’t realize we were in an earthquake.”

Cracked roads following the earthquake
One of countless roads destroyed by the earthquake.

The road quickly became dangerous, and the team was soon barricaded by rocks crashing down. They spent the night on the mountain, praying for safety and choosing to sing praise songs to God in the midst of their fear. They had no way of contacting anyone or knowing if their families were safe.

“It really affected me because I was far away from my family, and I didn’t know what had happened to them,” Aristil said.

Ruins in Port-au-Prince
Ruins in Port-au-Prince.

It soon became clear that Haiti was facing staggering destruction. At least 220,000 people were killed by the earthquake, 1.5 million more were displaced, and an estimated 80 percent of rural housing was destroyed along with much of the infrastructure in Port-au-Prince. An outbreak of cholera, one of the world’s deadliest waterborne diseases, soon followed and sickened 800,000 Haitians.

"Tent cities" constructed in the wake of the disaster
“Tent cities” constructed in the wake of the disaster.

"We need help"

We’ll never forget the pain and damage the earthquake caused. But we also won’t forget the way that people in Haiti and around the world immediately mobilized to help.

“The cry went out for help, and the community of Charleston responded,” said David Inman, Water Mission’s Director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs. “We had scores of volunteers signing up to lend a hand however it was needed.”

Aftermath

Local volunteers filled a variety of key roles, from rapidly assembling our Living Water Treatment Systems for shipment to traveling overseas and managing the logistics of equipment transportation. Generous donors quickly provided the support we needed to undertake a large-scale disaster response, and Water Mission employees from the United States and Latin America flew to Haiti to expand our capacity on the ground.

Unloading Water Mission water treatment systems
Unloading Water Mission’s Living Water Treatment Systems.

Drawing water from Water Mission treatment systems

With the support of volunteers and donors, our team was able to work around the clock to install more than 150 treatment systems and provide safe water to 250,000 people. They also trained community members on how to efficiently operate the systems, taught healthy hygiene behaviors to reduce the spread of disease, and hired additional Haitian staff to aid in the response efforts.

Distribution of safe water

“Many of our staff were hired in the aftermath of the earthquake and are still with us today,” David said. “I’m so proud to see how they have grown their capacity and are now taking on more responsibilities and leading the program.”

Aristil, for example, was hired as a driver just months before the earthquake. During the recovery period, he demonstrated talent as a technician, and then as an engineer. Aristil spent five years studying on nights and weekends to obtain a degree in civil engineering, and today he’s working through the rigorous Professional Engineer licensing process in Haiti. He currently serves as an engineer and operations manager on our team.

Aristil Frenel
Aristil Frenel, Engineer and Operations Manager, Water Mission Haiti

In the last nine years, Water Mission’s Haiti program has expanded dramatically to include more than 50 employees and two additional office locations.

The people of Haiti have continued to demonstrate courage and resilience in the face of recurring challenges, including the destruction brought by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and ongoing outbreaks of cholera in the country.

Safe water after the earthquake

“We’ve had to prioritize a program that can respond to disasters readily while still focusing on our long-term community development,” David said. “Everyone who works there has a diverse skill set and the ability to wear multiple hats, and they want to make everything happen as quickly as they can. They really understand why the work is urgent.”

Safe water after the earthquake

In 2019 and beyond, Water Mission plans to focus strategically on bringing safe water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions to the Artibonite Valley region in Central Haiti.

Artibonite Valley region
Artibonite Valley region, where cholera was first introduced in the earthquake’s aftermath.

“We’re committed to being in Haiti for the long haul,” David told us. “The Artibonite Valley is the area where cholera was first introduced after the earthquake in Haiti, and the disease continues to be a problem there. By focusing our efforts in a region where outbreaks continue to happen, our work will strengthen the country as a whole.”

Support our ongoing work in the Artibonite region of Haiti.

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