Haiti five years after the earthquake

12.01.2015 - GIZ expert Berthold Bös reports

On 12 January 2010 Haiti was hit by a severe earthquake. Hundreds and thousands of people lost their lives. Those who survived were left without their homes or their livelihoods. In response to the disaster, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was tasked by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) with providing extensive support. Berthold Bös was on site in Haiti from 2010 to 2013 to coordinate the delivery of this emergency and transitional aid. In this interview he talks about his work.

Mr Bös, you provided assistance on site in Haiti immediately after the earthquake. What did you have to deal with first?

GIZ’s area of assignment was in the region round the city of Léogâne, in other words directly in the quake’s epicentre. The earthquake had flattened virtually all the houses there and the infrastructure had collapsed. The first thing we did was to provide people with the basics, including around 1.3 million rations of food supplies and drinking water. The next important thing was to make sure they had a roof over their heads so we set up 3,500 provisional shelters where nearly 12,000 people found refuge. Although they were just temporary, those shelters withstood several hurricanes and even a number of aftershocks.

A disaster like this impacts the healthcare system, too. What measures were undertaken in this area?

Haiti’s healthcare system was virtually incapacitated after the earthquake. Furthermore, Haiti is a very mountainous country that is almost impassable in places which means it often takes people several days to get to the nearest city with a hospital. Following the earthquake, GIZ and the German Johanniter organisation set up six health centres. Just one of these health centres is capable of looking after up to 50,000 people, making it possible to get help quickly to people who have had an accident, for example.

The people needed something to give them hope after the earthquake. How could you help in this respect?

You’re right, most people didn’t have any income anymore because of the disaster. And money transfers from overseas didn't work for a long time. However, a lot of hands were needed to rebuild homes and infrastructure and so we recruited more than one thousand people on the spot, putting them in paid work. But GIZ didn’t just give them an opportunity to earn money to feed their families, it also trained them in various building techniques, giving them a set of skills they could apply in other jobs, too. We also supported the fishing industry, which is a major branch of the Haitian economy, by setting up six fishing centres where fishermen were given equipment such as nets, pots and fishing tackle as well as a place to process and market their catch. What’s more, we worked with the fishing community to develop a new kind of boat. Before the earthquake, fishermen used to fish from very small boats close to the coast where they generally only caught a few, relatively small fish. With their new boats they can now travel further out to sea and catch more, bigger fish. This will enable them to increase their income and help Haiti's economy to grow.