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Everyday Disasters - Reality Check from Haiti

Getro Mathieu from Action Secours Ambulance Getro Mathieu from Action Secours Ambulance

"We have learnt to sleep with one eye open", is the way Getro Mathieu described with a smile the challenge of living in Haiti. 

"Sadly, hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, floods have become almost part of our daily life. And, as well as these big disasters we have lots of day-to-day problems to deal with. For many people, even a few drops of rain signify that another disaster is on its way...". Gethro Mathieu is the Executive Director of Action Secours Ambulance, a haitian NGO.

On the eve of the World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) being held in Sendai, Japan, we are reminded of a conversation we had with one of our GNDR members in Haiti – a country that by any measures experiences more than it's fair share of disasters. Getro Mathieu runs a local NGO and describes Haiti as "a disaster laboratory where all forms of disaster strike – earthquake, hurricanes, resulting floods, landslides."

Some hit the headlines - the 2010 earthquake caused one of the worst natural disasters the western hemisphere has ever seen – but day-to-day disasters are almost the norm and go unreported and unrecognized. In most situations local communities are left to fend for themselves as best they can. The 2013 Views from the Frontline survey was conducted with the community of Fayette, 30km outside Port Au Prince – people who live on the 'disaster frontline'. A community of 1500 families live alongside the banks of the River Monmance which following storms and hurricanes has widened and widened, broken its banks washing away and damaging homes, flooding fields and destroying crops and grazing land. Soil erosion and deforestation are all long-lasting consequences of the hurricanes that hit. Loss of crops and land result in local people facing difficult choices and cutting trees to sell firewood as an alternative source of income. The knock-on effect is a weakening of natural defences to the next round of heavy rains, which means the impact is magnified. And so the cycle continues.

So, as governments, international institutions, and NGOs gather in Sendai to launch a post-2015 disaster reduction framework, we must ensure that international commitments result in local actions in places like Fayette. Places where it's not just the intensive disasters that occur – but experience everyday disasters long after the media attention has gone away. For an international framework to have deep, long-lasting impact, we need to take account of the reality for people in places like Fayette, and ensure that action takes place at the frontline, not just in the international conference rooms.

Its time to take real life at the frontline into account. To pay attention to the people "sleeping with one eye open". It's time for a Reality Check!

Find out more watching a video about everyday disasters in Haiti at the GNDR YouTube channel.

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