Helping Haiti Families to Be Prepared for Disasters

What would you take with you if an earthquake, a tsunami or flash floods suddenly destroyed your home? The European Commission humanitarian partner COOPI (Cooperazione Internazionale), along with its partner GOAL, posed this question to several Haitian families and organised a one-of-a-kind contest in Port-au-Prince with the objective of explaining how to best prepare emergency kits. The innovative approach is part of an action financed by the European Commission, which aims to reinforce the disaster preparedness and response capacities of the most vulnerable urban communities in Haiti.

Participants in the "Yon kit bien vit!" contest at Port-au-Prince's historic market. © COOPI / L. Palmisano 2015
Participants in the “Yon kit bien vit!” contest at Port-au-Prince’s historic market. © COOPI / L. Palmisano 2015

On 16 October 2015, several Haitian families raced around the capital’s ‘marché en fer’ (its most iconic market) to win a contest named “Yon kit bien vit!” which in Haitian Creole means “Quick, grab your kit!”. The objective of the contest was for participants to find the most essential survival items to pack in their own emergency kits within the shortest possible time.

We put medication, candles, a radio, soap, rice, dry food and a knife,” says Florence, a 7-year-old girl who lives with her family in Tabarre, a commune in the Port-au-Prince arrondissement in Haiti’s Ouest Department. Other key life-saving goods for the emergency kits included first aid items, money, a flashlight, batteries, waterproof matches, a can opener, canned food, drinking water and small pots to cook and boil water.

Emergency kits need to be tailored to users’ needs and easily fit in one bag. Contestant families were divided into three categories, according to their situation and needs: families with children and pregnant women, families with disabled members and families with elderlies.

“To reduce disaster risk, one needs to get prepared. An emergency kit, always ready at home, is a simple example of preparedness. It should include a water resistant plastic bag for important documents and provision enough to stay two days away from home or even outside,” explains Morena Zucchelli, Country Representative of COOPI (Cooperazione Internazionale) in Haiti and expert in disaster risk reduction.

All participating families bought enough items for an emergency kit for two days, but some inserted additional products, such as baby food or water purification tablets, which led them to win the prize: an electric oven to reduce the use of coal and help mitigate Haiti’s deforestation.

The project, funded by the European Commission’s Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO), aims to raise awareness about disaster risk reduction, with a particular focus on the preparedness of vulnerable families and their capacity to manage available resources. Simple precautions save lives in case of disaster, and many actions are easy to implement. The “Yon kit bien vit!” contest, organised in coordination with the National Committee of Public Education and Awareness Raising, was a good example of raising awareness activity, and helped to improve families’ preparedness for future disasters.

Earlier in the year, in May, more than 1 800 beneficiaries of the project (including most of the “Yon kit bien vit!” contest participants) were trained on ‘family emergency plans’. Developed by several NGOs and the Haitian Civil Protection authorities, these plans helped families map out what to do in case of an emergency – who to call, where to go after the evacuation, and how to prepare an emergency kit.

According to the World Bank, Haiti is the fifth country in the world most exposed to the impact of natural hazards. Located in the Caribbean’s ‘hurricane corridor’, the island is regularly affected by natural disasters of all kinds – including the devastating 2010 earthquake that cost 222 750 lives.

The European Commission’s humanitarian aid in Haiti focuses on assisting victims of acute food insecurity due to drought, the cholera epidemic and on responding to emergencies (such as Hurricane Isaac or Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012) by building up the resilience of the most vulnerable.

Lara Palmisano, Head of Communications, COOPI Haiti, for the EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).