Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Haiti: Quake homeless get help from the sky

Source: United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

Brienne Charles and her neighbours lost their homes when the January earthquake ripped through their remote mountain village. Now they're getting new ones thanks to a Chilean NGO and WFP's knack for reaching people in even the hardest-to-reach locations. Watch the clip

PORT-AU-PRINCE – "It's like magic," beamed Brienne Charles as she watched the unassembled parts of her new home descend from a WFP-chartered helicopter on to the hilltop in southern Haiti.

"Now my children will have a decent place to sleep again," said the 38-year-old mother of two, who has been living in a tent with her family since her home in the village of Petite Savane, 60 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, was levelled by the January 12 earthquake.

Rough terrain

"They lost everything," said Erika Hibon, who works with Un Techo Para Mi Pais, or, A Roof For My Country. The Chile-based NGO provides shelter for disaster victims, in this case prefabricated wooden houses easily transportable by truck and capable of quick assembly in a few hours.

Finding more permanent shelter for people who lost their homes has become increasingly urgent with the onset of the hurricane season and a large part of the population still living in tents.

The trouble with Brienne and her neighbours was the site of their homes at the top of a steep hill just outside Petite Savane. "There was no way to get a truck up there. So we went to the UN Logistics Cluster to see if they could help," said Erika.

As the main provider of logistics services for the UN, and lead agency of its Logistics Cluster, WFP stepped up to the meet the challenge. Its solution came in the form of a Russian-built MI 171 helicopter.

Help from above

"The MI 171 is ideal for this sort of task," said Emmanuel Jarry, the WFP logistics officer in charge of the operation. "It has a sling capacity of four metric tons, easily enough to handle those houses."

Parts for the three houses were trucked from Port-au-Prince to a site on the coast near Petite Savane and then airlifted up to the hilltop village. The job took all of a few hours – much to Brienne's delight.

"It has been very hard for us since the earthquake," she said. "We're far from the main roads so we haven't had much help. We need clothes and food and maybe some medicine. But at least now, we have a house to live in."

Erika said the project could provide houses to many other people in the same situation. "This was an experiment to see if it could work. Now that we know it can be done, there are hundreds of other people in isolated villages all over the mountains that we may be able to help."