Northwest Haiti Still in Dire Need After Hurricane Matthew

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Friends, Family, Colleagues,

I ask for your attention again as we get critical news from Hurricane Matthew’s wake in northwestern Haiti. In total, 55,000 people have been directly impacted by the storm in the two municipalities where TWP has worked since 2007. Our colleagues at AMURT have just returned from a trip to the area to assess needs, and are seeing immense challenges ahead. Roads have been washed out, irrigation systems have been destroyed, and almost all livelihood activities have ground to a halt. 70% of crops for this fall’s harvest are gone. 90% of the salt basins used to harvest sea salt have been flooded with mud. The limited sources for potable water in the area have been washed out.

family in northwest Haiti
A family in northwest Haiti stands by their crumbling home after Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Here is a first-hand account from our partners at AMURT.

“Just returned from the Northwest after a very hard trip – productive but very heartbreaking at the same time. The damage after the last inundations and heavy rains has been much more extensive than I thought. In fact when I went to the area after Matthew and compare what I saw then and what I witness now – it’s several degrees more severe and critical. I visited villages that have such substantial malnutrition, whose residents have lost all of their livelihoods and have nothing left to them. Several villages had cases of infant death due to malnutrition (only 3 weeks after the hurricane!), cholera returning, no drinking water, mud covering everything, productive soil covering salt basins, eroded roads…

This is a very extensive humanitarian crisis that is not talked about anywhere in the news. It’s as if this region is forgotten by all and is slipping into a spiral of vulnerability that will surely deepen week by week. I wanted to send you a quick email while I’m fresh back with very strong impressions and renewed urgency to respond.”

Destroyed village
Entire villages turned into rubble after Hurricane Matthew blew threw northwest Haiti last month. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Due to their economic fragility and geographic isolation, families in this region have nowhere to turn to feed their families. They can migrate to one of Haiti’s overcrowded cities to live in the squalor of an informal urban slum, or they can rebuild their lives where they are. At TWP, we’re supporting the latter alternative – providing emergency relief via our partners, and helping the region rebuild and reinvest their way to a livable state.

Our resources for this effort are extremely limited, so we turn to you, our donors to help us with a special contribution to the effort. Again – 100% of the funds raised for this relief and reconstruction campaign will go to the communities in the Northwest Artibonite. No amount is too small. We will keep you posted as updates arise.

Thank you!

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Hurricane Matthew’s Destructive Path in Northwest Haiti

by Sebastian Africano, International Director of Trees, Water & People

For the last week I’ve been pondering the severity of Hurricane Matthew’s destruction in the Caribbean, a region in which I’ve spent a lot of time, and where I’ve worked with dozens of chronically vulnerable communities. While Matthew made landfall on the south coast of Haiti, which is what most are seeing in the news, I had not seen one mention of the conditions on Haiti’s northern peninsula, the region in which TWP has worked since 2007 with partners at AMURT and LOCAL.

Today I received the first news from the communities with which we’ve worked, and it’s not good (see below). As such, Trees, Water & People will be raising funds for the relief effort in the Northwest, and for continued stabilization of the hillsides with trees, shrubs, and grasses. 100% of funds raised will go to the recovery and reconstruction effort. Here is an email from our colleagues at AMURT, who just conducted a 3-day visit to the region:
Even before Hurricane Matthew, the northwest of Haiti was designated as an extreme vulnerability zone as a result of the 3-year drought – the farming and environment of the entire area has been devastated and has led to an increase of migration, the spread of cholera, and shrinking of livelihoods. The passing of Matthew along the NW of Haiti has devastated all coastal communities which rely on fishing, salt production, and subsistence farming. The photos show the extensive damage done to houses, but the damage extends inland – most of the irrigation canals have been destroyed, farms wiped out, livestock lost, salt basins submerged in mud, trees uprooted. Polluted water sources and very poor sanitation raise the danger of the expansion of the cholera epidemic which still plagues the region.

This couple stands in front of a line of destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew in northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Hurricane Matthew has increased the vulnerability of this already impoverished and isolated corner of Haiti to a new level, which is exacerbated by the complete lack of basic services. The real crisis will deepen week by week as the sparse stocks of seeds and supplies begin running out. With the primary sources of livelihoods (in particular salt production and farming) severely impacted, those most vulnerable have lost the only source of meager income that has helped them meet their basic food needs. The situation is critical and requires an immediate response which is integrated, durable and targeting the most vulnerable populations.

  • 280 houses completely destroyed, 640 houses inundated and damaged, 720 houses severely damaged, five schools severely damaged.
  • 90% of salt basins severely impacted/destroyed.
  • Majority of farming land and irrigation severely impacted from the mountains to the coast.
  • Majority of road severely impacted, access to most inland areas very difficult.
This family stands beside their demolished home after Hurricane Matthew raged through northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf

Greatest Needs

First phase – emergency food, water, sanitation, medical and emergency kits, temporary shelter, child-friendly spaces, cash for work to clear debris and repair roads and salt basins.

Second phase – Livelihood creation, cash for work to protect watersheds and coastal areas, construction of permanent shelter, school reconstruction.

Program Focus of AMURT during the first 3-month period

  • Emergency food distribution (dry rations) and hot meal canteens for vulnerable groups (children under 5, elderly, pregnant women and handicapped) – a total of 2,500 beneficiaries in 5 coastal communities
  • Distribution of Non-Food Items (NFI) and emergency shelter kits until more extensive reconstruction can be planned
  • Water and sanitation – treated drinking water stations, latrines, sanitation education
  • Emergency Child-Friendly Spaces – daily hot meals and psycho-social and arts programs for children
  • Cash for Work program to repair roads, damaged areas, salt basins
  • Assistance to re-build the damaged fishing, salt production, and farming (tools, seeds, accompaniment)

Trees, Water & People has planted almost 500,000 trees in northern Haiti with our partners, and with any luck, they lessened the damage downhill of where they were planted. All funds raised by TWP will be used for the priorities listed above, and any remaining after the initial response will go toward rebuilding tree nurseries and replanting the contour channels and check dams that reduce erosion and mudslide risk. This is a desperately isolated region, which is why we worked here in the first place – let’s not let it be forgotten as the country recovers from yet another devastating natural disaster.

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Notes from the Field: Off the Beaten Track

by Jon Becker, TWP Board President

The sun is dropping in the sky as we snake our way through Port-au-Prince traffic, along several tent camps, and never ending rivers of people. We finally leave the city, and the road opens up. We drive for miles with no sign of surrounding life, suddenly we’re surprised to find areas overflowing with people, vehicles, buildings.  Why the surprise?  Because there are no lights, presumably because there’s no electricity.  So, we have to remain alert.  Under a black sky, and thanks to intrepid route finding by Sebastian and our backcountry guide/interpreter KeyKey (from partner International Lifeline Fund), we pull into Gonaives and the Paraiso Hotel for a late dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast before we get back on the road Thursday morning.

I awake to see that we are now in very different surroundings. We have left the developed and somewhat lush zone surrounding Port-au-Prince and now look out to rugged, desiccated mountains surrounding rocky desert plains. Gonaives is doing its own version of the Haitian morning shuffle – with uniformed school kids crowding the streets, busy looking men and women moving about on foot, small motorbikes, or crowded onto the ever present “tap-taps” – small pickup trucks to large buses that randomly load and discharge their passengers, instantly identifiable by their screamingly colorful and come all ye faithful inspired paint jobs. Messages range from Jesus Saves to Toyotas Rule, with an occasional homage to Bob Marley. Out of Gonaives our environment quickly becomes full on tropical desert.  Sand, rocks, cactus, and the Gulf of Gonave off to the west, as far as the eye can see. KeyKey and I can do a little sightseeing, but Sebastian needs to keep his eyes firmly on the road, or what passes for the road.   The pavement is gone, as is often any semblance of grading or even the vaguest sense of a single track. At first we laugh nervously as we slip, slide, and bottom out, but that gives way to English, Spanish, and Creole prayers for safety, traction, and ultimate deliverance. I get out at several mud pit boulder garden rut maze crossings to scout routes, photo document the adventure, and avoid the possibility of being in a capsized car. We make it through them all – somebody’s karma is in the plus zone. By now we’re so far off the beaten track that I can barely go to the place of considering that we might get stuck or break down. We rarely see another car – every once in a while some goats or burros. It’s very beautiful, in the powerful and forbidding ways that deserts can be.

The road to Sources Chaudes
Black Gold

Finally, we approach our day’s destination – the tiny remote village of Sources Chaudes, and just to be sure that we get our daily dose of Haitian surprise and irony, it happens that today is market day here – so that the one street of the town is absolutely packed with vendors, buyers, burros, and an endless variety of animal, vegetable, and mineral wares for sale. We make like Sources Chaudesians, and go to market. What a show! I recognize the rice and beans, beautifully displayed in their rawness. Some of the veggies have me scratching my head – exotic fruits and squashes that aren’t on the shelves where I usually shop. The meat department features the freshest products you’ll ever experience – since the goats, chickens, and pigs are all still walking around. Sebastian and KeyKey do some price surveying/data collection for agro-forestry work. I try to look not too out of place – a challenge being the only non-locals at the market. The big draw is down the hill (just to the left of the burro parking lot), where the charcoal concession has set up shop. There are a couple of six foot high piles of the black gold, dozens of 35 kg bags already filled, and an energetic crew hustling about, loading bags, answering questions, and making sales. KeyKey and Sebastian dive in, checking on prices, processes, products, anything else they can draw out of the boys. As the sun passes midday, many of the shoppers start loading up for the commute home. Amazing how much goods, including live goats and chickens, you can load onto one little burro – and usually still have room for the driver to sit on top for a ride too. Some of the burros appear to be heading up the trail for home by themselves – let’s see your family car do that!

Notes from the Field: From Haiti, With Love

By Jon Becker, TWP Board President

A short 2 hour flight from Miami delivered me from the order and predictability of the United States into the bedlam, rubble, and breathtaking resilience of this Caribbean nation who’s remarkable history rivals any on planet Earth.  It’s not hard to imagine the tropical island paradise that must have originally existed here – before Columbus, colonization, slavery, sugar cane empires, revolutions, wars, invasions, coups, and the earthquake of January 2010.  The people here have lived through everything, tend to have very few things (from a material point of view), and somehow seem to get up every morning to do the significant work that the day brings to them.  The streets are packed with people walking; heads often loaded high with baskets of food, clothes, or other goods.  The capital city Port-au-Prince isn’t just hilly – it’s like San Francisco on steroids.  And of course the roads are bad, and overcrowded with cars and trucks and motorcycles and Earthquake debris, yet people are swarming all over like ants, going where they need to go, doing what they need to do.  Did I mention that it regularly pours with monsoon intensity at this time of year, which of course doesn’t slow people down a bit?

VJ Jahangiri inspects a component of the Zanmi Pye Bwa cookstove

Yesterday, TWP Deputy International Director, Sebastian Africano, picked me up at the airport after my arrival at 8 am.  He was already moving in fast forward (including Central America full on chaos driving mode).  We battled our way through morning traffic to the new United Nations base (the old one was thoroughly destroyed, at great cost to human life, in the Quake).  We met up there with inimitable  International Lifeline Fund field leader VJ Jahangiri.  VJ has been the feet on the ground launching and directing ILF’s pioneering stove work in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and now Haiti. We had one sit down with a UN staffer we wanted to see, the second office we went looking for had vanished.  Typical Haiti story I’m told.  The neighbors think they moved to another town, maybe we’ll find them.

Next stop is the ILF office and stove manufacturing site.  How Sebastian finds his way through the insane maze of streets, and without getting swiped by a truck or bus, or running over a pedestrian, is totally beyond me, but I’ve quickly learned not to question and to look down at my feet when it looks like collision is imminent.

A busy ILF office in Port-au-Prince

ILF headquarters is in a moderately converted house high on the hill overlooking the Gulf of Gonave.  Lots happens here, most exciting is probably the boys out back – hammering, cutting, shaping, riveting, coaxing sheets of steel into the Zanmi Pi Bwa, the “Friend of the Trees” cookstove.  Some would call them craftsmen, I prefer artists.  They’re a dozen or so young men recruited from off of the streets by TWP and ILF who create these beautiful, technologically sophisticated, life and environment altering stoves.  Everything is made totally by hand, not even a single power tool (both because these guys prefer it and electricity is not something to be so relied on here).  One gentleman cuts the disk that will be the stove’s base, he passes it to another who hammers the edge into a 90 degree bend that will mate with the sides.  Other groups work on the charcoal basket, a crucial component that needs to hold the fuel, supplying it with adequate combustion air, withstand the rigors of 1000 degrees of so temperature, last long enough to keep the cooks happy, and be easily replaced when it finally wears out.

Hard at work!

  And there’re stations for making the handles, the ash door, the pot holders, etc.  Finally, by some miracle (called production management), in the end there are the right quantity of each of these parts so that stacks of completed, ready-to-go stoves accumulate at the house rather than inventory of components.  As I write, I hear the BANG SMASH CLANG of these men at work.  It’s a beautiful sound to me (although I send my deepest sympathy to any neighbors within earshot).

 From here, we set off in a caravan that included ILF’s Patrick Chevalier and Dagne Casseus.  Dagne is one of ILF’s sharp and valuable field monitors.  One of the great lessons learned at TWP over the years is that the best technical stove design in the world isn’t worth the tin (or tile or mud) it’s made out of if it doesn’t suit the cooks’ sensibilities, which usually (but not always) means the women of the house.  The field monitors perform the indispensably crucial tasks of surveying, educating, and following up with users so that we can learn what’s working, what isn’t, and how we can improve operation, desirability, and ultimately sales of cookstoves.  We had the very deep pleasure of visiting two homes of families who not only use but are involved in the sales of the ZPB stove.  So, it wasn’t surprising that they spoke highly of them, but they also communicated (through Patrick, translating from the Haitian Creole) with real honesty and thoughtful articulation.  We got feedback on cooking, as well as pricing and marketing.

Seeing the working stoves in place in homes, and hearing how they had significantly reduced charcoal costs and improved lives was an absolute thrill for me – first day here and the trip is already more than worth it!  I reconsidered this conclusion during the two hours it took to make the trip back to our home base through rush hour and the rain, covering a distance that might take us 20 minutes back In the USA.  After dinner and a shower, I stand by my earlier impression.

Notes from the Field: On the Ground in Haiti

© Subuddhyananda 2010

Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director, writes about his most recent trip to Haiti:

I’d call on everybody to keep their eyes and thoughts on Haiti in the coming weeks, and to think of ways forward as the country prepares itself for the era that will see them either emerge as a functional democracy, or remain buried mentally and physically in the rubble of the past several decades.

This quote from a recent NY Times Editorial (Nov. 30, 2010) titled “Haiti After the Vote,” describes the recent presidential elections and speaks to many of the challenges facing the incoming government (whomever that may be):

“Eleven months after the devastating earthquake, more than a million people are still displaced. The country is also struggling to contain a cholera epidemic. The new government will have to clear the many roadblocks that have slowed the rebuilding effort. And it will have to tackle a host of other reforms: modernizing the electoral system and constitution; unclogging bureaucracies and legal requirements that stifle business and investment; overhauling cruel and ineffective courts and prisons.”

I would add one point to the above list of challenges that face the incoming Haitian government – and would, after 6 years of working in Central America and the Caribbean, extend this critique to all the countries in the region.  My thoughts stem from a trip I took a week before the elections, from the rural, arid northwest of Haiti back to the capital, during which we crossed paths with a convoy of at least 10 UN amphibious tanks & trucks, armed to the teeth, presumably heading to Cap Haitien.

UN troops make their way towards Cap Haitien.

We were in Cap Haitien until four days prior, and got out just before people started rioting against the UN based on the allegation that the current cholera strain was brought in by their troops, from abroad.

I knew that whatever was going on that week would pale to the chaos brought on by a general election between 18 candidates, and the after effects of this contest, that are sure to continue over several weeks.

So amidst the accusations of electoral fraud, stalling on durable solutions in the reconstruction, UN irresponsibility and an intensely dangerous cholera epidemic with dubious origins, lies an issue which receives relatively little attention, but which will be instrumental in creating a prosperous Haitian society, if there were ever to be one.  The origins of the cholera that has currently has Haiti over a barrel are secondary when you ignore the factors that have allowed it to proliferate – an abysmal disregard for sanitation and hygiene throughout the country, and no waste management systems that would provide an alternative to current practice.  In truth, nobody should be pointing fingers when there are crises like this afoot, but I look at the situation more objectively.

A river of trash on its way through Port-au-Prince and out to sea.

If the earthquake had never happened, Haitians would still be living among open sewers, defecating in waterways and throwing Styrofoam and plastic into clogged drainage channels, with no concern for the consequences… and the world would be perfectly content to ignore it.  The cholera may have been brought from abroad, but I’m sure the conditions for its proliferation have been ripe for decades, as they are in many developing-world cities.

I see epidemics like these as eventually inevitable, given the conditions, and this outbreak in Haiti should catalyze a serious global conversation on waste, the burden of responsibility that exists upon both the producers and consumers of things that become waste, and most importantly human waste.

A beach full of trash takes away from the stunning beauty of the Caribbean.

We “first-worlders” are subject to this scrutiny as well, as we find it more than acceptable to ignore the destination of our disposables, and are more than comfortable sullying perfectly potable water (an increasingly scarce commodity) on a daily basis.  But until we feel just as comfortable discussing the matter as we do flushing and throwing things “away”, we’ll keep running into epidemics such as this one, and perhaps even worse ones that come from the burning, burying and floating of non-biodegradable and chemical waste into the world’s sinks.

As cholera in Haiti, the recent petroleum disaster in the Gulf, the recent toxic spills in Hungary and so many other environmental disasters have shown us, we reap what we sow, folks.  It’s time we face the fact that we have to learn to manage what we consume, where it comes from, and most importantly recognize what that consumption leaves behind.  Let’s make the effort to reduce our share of non-biodegradable products in the waste-stream, and to make this a topic of conversation among families and friends as Haiti turns the page and begins this hopeful new era.

Notes from the Field: A Sobering Account of Haiti

Photo by Colby Brown and Lespwa Haiti

Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director, sends this personal account from northwest Haiti, reminding us of the epic challenges faced by the Haitian people each and every day.  Sebastian has been in the country since November 8th visiting TWP partners and assessing the current situation in this devastated country.

“crazy day – went to visit some AMURT project sites, and as we left were greeted with a dead body in the street three houses down from us first thing in the AM.  Cholera is real and is spreading.  We are being extra cautious to be sure, but there is no fear from our side, just respect.  We saw another body in Okap – in the back of a pickup truck with family wailing at full bore in the street.  It hits suddenly, and takes people quickly.  Sure enough, after our site visits and a quick trip to a beach near here, we came across a procession of vehicles coming downhill from Source Chaude – probably 15 – 20 people jammed in an Izuzu Trooper, all screaming like they were being kidnapped.  A procession of motorbikes and walkers followed.  Nuts.  SC is cool, pitch black and over-run by goats, pigs, clouds of mosquitos, and feisty Haitians.  Remember that this is where Paul and Andrew came down with severe malaria – it’s full on roulette.  All water in the taps, etc… comes from a sulfurous steaming hot spring, but we filter it, chlorinate it and re-filter it in a Brita just to be sure.  I’m sleeping in a woven hammock I bought in Honduras, behind one of AMURT’s buildings, in a windier area, free of mosquitos.  I woke up this morning at dawn to the sound of marching, and uncovered my face to find myself completely surrounded by a sea of goats.  Got to watch the newborn kids chase each other around all morning – clumsy and clueless as to their eventual purpose. The countryside is nice.  Our people at AMURT are doing some strong strong work, and are definitely inspiring to be with.  Tomorrow I’ll follow them during an actual work day, and then head back to PAP on Tuesday morning, with a potential stop through the waterfall I mentioned yesterday (glorious).  I’ll meet with who I can on Tues and Wed, then leave for DC on Thursday morning…”

Photo by Colby Brown and Lespwa Hait

Click here to learn how you can help bring clean cookstoves to the Haitian people, helping them to fight the spread of water borne disease such as cholera.

Back to Haiti: A Note from TWP’s Deputy International Director

Deputy International Director Sebastian Africano hangs out with Haitian children at an IDP camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Dear Friends,
Today I embark on a 6-week trip to Central America and Haiti to visit the international programs of Trees, Water & People (TWP). November 5-18, I will be in Haiti and below are a few key activities on my itinerary:

  1. Arrive in Port-au-Prince and conduct analysis of Rocket stove distribution and monitoring of 7,000 household stoves with our partner, International Lifeline Fund (ILF).
  2. Discuss next steps for the development of a comprehensive National Stove Strategy for institutional and household stoves in Haiti.
  3. Visit original beneficiary families of TWP emergency relief stoves in Sineas Camp, Port-au-Prince.
  4. Visit new beneficiary families in Corail and Isa Tabare.
  5. Participate in United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting to develop the National Improved Stove strategy in conjunction with the Haitian Government (TWP has an advisory role to the working group).
  6. Visit beneficiaries of TWP’s stove project in the Central Plateau of Haiti, as well as reconnect with the MPP – a rural peoples movement that is very interested in promoting fuel-efficient stoves to their 61,000 members. They have an abandoned ceramics facility that could become the foundation of a new local stove factory.
  7. Visit northern Haiti to assess the access to raw materials for stove building through ports and overland crossings from the Dominican Republic.

If you are interested in sending stoves to Haiti, click here.  Our Haitian friends need our continued support during these difficult times.

Kind Regards,

Haitian Awareness Panel at EventGallery 910Arts

MeMeMe- Photo by Ray Tollison and Lespwa Haiti

A surprising number of organizations with Colorado roots are working in Haiti to offer earthquake relief and improve the lives of the Haitian people. Six of those organizations will participate in a panel discussion at the EventGallery 910Arts, at 910 Santa Fe Drive in Denver, on Saturday, September 25, from 3 to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Colorado Haiti Project; Lespwa Haiti; Renewal 4 Haiti; The Lambi Fund of Haiti; Trees, Water & People; and Wish 4 Haiti are represented on a panel designed to introduce Colorado organizations working in Haiti, bring awareness to their efforts and invite the public to get involved. This will be the kick-off event for an exhibition of Haitian art and culture scheduled in the EventGallery 910Arts for summer 2011.

A discussion of how earthquake relief work transitions into rebuilding in Haiti and creation of the model for long term sustainability is led by Paul Casey, Executive Director of Colorado Haiti Project; photographers Colby Brown and Ray Tollison from Lespwa Haiti; Jodel Charles, Haitian immigrant and founder of Renewal 4 Haiti; Godson Beaugelin, Community Outreach Coordinator of The Lambi Fund of Haiti; Sebastian Africano, Deputy International Director, and Claudia Menendez, International Program Consultant, from Trees, Water & People; and Leslie Christensen from Wish 4 Haiti. The panel will be moderated by Melissa Basta, a Peace Corp volunteer who has worked in Haiti. And, the Colorado Committee on Africa and the Caribbean is a co-sponsor of the event.

Committed to demonstrating how art can inspire change, the EventGallery 910Arts is a gallery space that often offers exhibitions with a social or environmental message. Located in the heart of Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe, the EventGallery 910Arts and Gallery Gifts are housed within the creative community known as 910Arts. It is a complex of 17 artists’ studios and galleries, 8 live-work lofts and the Studio 6 Coffee House, anchored by a colorful open-air courtyard. The EventGallery 910Arts is a venue for meetings, parties, workshops and retreats and it hosts music, literary and film events. For more information, please visit