Five years after an earthquake struck Haiti – a country that was already struggling with a weak infrastructure and widespread poverty – we take a look at some of the recovery work undertaken by the British Red Cross in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Click on the map to read, see and listen to some of the stories from the suburb of Delmas 19.

Melvin Tebbutt, British Red Cross head of delegation in Haiti, answers some questions around our work in Delmas 19.

Why was there a need to improve the drainage system in Delmas 19?

“Prior to the earthquake, the public drainage system in Delmas 19 was very limited and following 12 January 2010, it was almost non-existent.

“As most of the area in which the British Red Cross works is low lying, this meant that nearly the whole place flooded every time it rained, deluging people’s houses, ruining the very few belongings they had, and bringing with it increased potential for disease.”

How did you involve the local community in both planning and construction of the drainage system and public place?

“By involving the community in one of the existing Red Cross participatory approaches, the population identified drainage as their top priority: it would help tackle public health hazards relating to stagnant and rubbish-filled water.

“Once the structural designs of the canal and public space were drawn up by British Red Cross technicians, and agreed upon by the relevant authorities, local labour was trained and paid on a contract basis to deliver the work within a tight timeframe.


What challenges did you face along the way?

“The skillset of the Haitian community we were working with was relatively low, especially concerning correct construction practice. This meant the labour force had to be brought up to speed by the British Red Cross construction manager first.

“There were also issues around local committees and how to involve them equitably. External challenges in 2012 from Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy, both of which hit Haiti hard, caused an immense amount of damage and delays to programming.”

How has the new public space enhanced the community?

“It provides a much lighter, more open walkway for people as they move about the neighbourhood during the day. Towards the evening as people return from school or work, it is also used as a more social space, for playing football, chatting or having a drink.”

Why was a decision made to build a new market?

“The earthquake damaged the original marketplace, which meant the traders had to set up their stalls on the narrow roadside.

“To get them away from the danger of passing cars and into something more permanent, the British Red Cross offered to work with the community and the Mayor to build a new market space.

“It helps the whole community evolve as a market committee has been formed to help manage the site and develop stronger links with the municipality.”


How is the new market an improvement upon the previous market?

“The original market was an informal collection of traders selling their goods on the road and in a small compound with no amenities or protection from the elements.

“The new market has a roof, purpose-built stalls, concrete paving and drainage, and toilets. Added to that, the market committee is recognised and registered with the local authorities.”

How has the local community benefitted from the Red Cross’ recovery programme in terms of new skills, jobs and future opportunities?

“Some of the community have been able to learn building trades such as trench, culvert and cement work to construct the drainage and paving. Small and micro-sized enterprises have been helped on the livelihoods side with loans and training in all commercial areas.

“The housing programme will further provide intensive on-the-job training for up to eight months, giving masons a nationally approved certificate to help them improve their skills – technically and in building management – for the future.”

What has been your personal experience of working in Haiti and what lessons have you learned?

“Haiti is a very special case and is also one of the most abrasive settings to work in. The government is relatively weak, which makes collaboration difficult and incredibly slow, meaning progress is hampered from all sides.

“They’re not really lessons, but rather confirmations, that I have learned. For example, you have to spend time understanding, working and communicating with your community and partners all the way through the programme. And hard though it is, sometimes you just have to say no.

“If you have that, a defined budget, good planning, HR and management in place, you’re well on your way to a successful programme.”