6 Months On from Hurricane Matthew

  • Date: 04/04/2017
  • Author: Jo-Ann Ward

On the night of 4 October 2016 Hurricane Matthew struck the south-western tip of Haiti bringing heavy rainfall in the south, south-east and the north-west, and creating the largest humanitarian emergency in the country since the 2010 earthquake.

What was the damage of Hurricane Matthew?

  • Hurricane Matthew affected 1 million people
  • 546 people died in the hurricane
  • An estimated 175,500 people were displaced, scattered in over 300 temporary shelters
  • 34 cholera treatment centres were destroyed.
  • 806,000 people were at an extreme level of food insecurity.

Six months on from the disaster we interviewed 53 year old Mernie Blaise (pictured). Mernie lives with her husband and children of friends and neighbours.

What are the main issues facing women following Hurricane Matthew?

The first one is hunger. Also there are economic issues, as many women have lost almost everything. Some people are still living in tents and under tarpaulin and the community still feels it.

What types of violence affect women in Bonbon, Haiti?

There is economic violence. Men usually have more economic power, and women are at their mercy. Women need money to feed their children and themselves, to buy things for the house. They feel that they have no voice.

There is also verbal violence, most often within families.

Another example is where girls will go to live and sleep with older men in exchange for money or financial support. The money helps the girl and her family, so the family don’t really argue about this situation. Lots of girls will move to town and live with older men in exchange for money.

Is there much awareness of the negative impacts of this on women?

We used to raise awareness in schools, through SOFA. (Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn, a national feminist organisation and a local partner of ActionAid in the response.) I led some of these trainings. Girls would learn about it through this. After Hurricane Matthew, protection trainings have restarted in communities via ActionAid, so I hope stronger awareness will come again.

ActionAid’s Response Following Hurricane Matthew:

Thanks to the support of the general public and from the Irish government through Irish Aid, ActionAid has supported over 58,000 people in some of Haiti’s remotest regions. We did this by providing food, water and cholera prevention kits, building long-term resilience through cash for work, commerce and farming, and prioritising women’s rights and protection through women’s safe spaces, enterprise and training.

Women were leaders at all levels of the ActionAid Hurricane Matthew response. Protection of women after an emergency like Hurricane Matthew is crucial because women and girls are at increased risk of sexual violence. They have lost their privacy, their belongings, their homes and sometimes their families.

ActionAid’s protection approach was four-fold:

  1. Protection training and awareness-building in communities – ActionAid reached 603 community leaders (95% women). Participants learnt about the legal and social frameworks and resources in place to protect women, as well as discussing how to prevent different types of violence in their community, and the actions that should be taken following a case of violence.
  2. Volunteers from ActionAid’s local partners formed protection volunteer groups in the temporary shelters to support women immediately after the hurricane. For example, explaining that families should stay together, discussing how to prevent violence against women, and accompanying girls to the latrine at night.
  3. In each locality, ActionAid’s local partners have at least two women trained in protection who are available to support any community members who need help.
  4. ActionAid built four permanent Women’s Friendly Spaces. These are hubs of women’s rights and protection work, and a place to promote women’s empowerment. Each one includes a private secure room with a bed for vulnerable women, an open communal area, a library/storage area, private latrines, a bathing area, and a water reservoir.

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