Time to think big in Haiti

Alexandros Yiannopoulos, Oxfam’s coordinator of food security and livelihoods in Haiti, is blogging for Channel 4 News Online.

It is now time to think big. Three weeks in we have a plan, good people in place and now we have to try to achieve one of the largest projects that I have ever managed, if not one of the largest Oxfam projects since the Tsunami.

In some respects it feels like yesterday when I arrived; on the other hand days seem to be eternally long with nothing going according to plan.

Walking around the bustling streets of Port-au-Prince, with endless traffic jams taking you three times longer than on a weekend, life seems to go on. Markets and shops are open, along the busy pavements there are vendors selling various goods, and people are going about their day to day life.

Most of the basic items and foodstuffs are available but at a price – for some people it is too much.

This is a fragile existence. Many people don’t have enough money to cover their daily needs, many of the shops are damaged and traders need more customers to turn a profit.

In response to this, our activities are slowly (I say slowly, but in emergencies we are always impatient) taking shape.

I see the situation in Haiti as a livelihood problem: food is available, markets are operational even though they are weaker, but people do not have jobs and have a limited income to be able to purchase food.

Based on this we are paying unemployed families to help with the cleaning up of their neighborhoods, giving them an immediate income; linked to that, families with some skills such as traders, small shop owners, plumbers, will get a grant to help re-start their small businesses; lastly, because we are concerned about the markets and how quickly they can recover, we are studying them to set up a project to address their weaknesses. For the short-term this should provide enough support to get families back on their feet.

Still at the back of the mind, I have a further two questions (every time I get a better understanding of the situation and do something it opens up more issues): will the situation get worse? Who are we missing?

I will be keeping an eye on how the situation changes and keeping the projects running at the speed needed.

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