International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The rainy season in Leogane: helping Haitians help themselves

Traveling recently to Leogane, a coastal city 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, I saw firsthand the damage a typical rainy season can cause on this part of the island. The deluge and fierce winds had partially destroyed the sidewalk in Leogane’s downtown area and uprooted trees. The flooding was made worse by water that had breached the banks of the nearby river, La Rouyonne. The IRC’s economic recovery and development coordinator, Paola Valdettaro, took me to the river to show me how its rising waters had impacted an entire community. And La Rouyonne is only one of three rivers that cross the area.

Leogane was the closest city to the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. The city suffered the second highest number of victims after Port-au-Prince, and according to most estimates, 80 to 90 percent of its buildings and infrastructure was destroyed.

Since the earthquake, Leogane’s population has grown from 193,000 to about 200,000 people. Many Haitians left homeless in Port-au-Prince fled the capital and returned to places where they had lived before. Some came here to seek refuge with relatives and friends.

This year, weather experts at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 18 tropical storms to develop in the Caribbean during the June to November hurricane season. Haiti is extremely vulnerable to such storms. When it rains, city streets are easily flooded, allowing cholera and other waterborne diseases to spread rapidly. Crops are destroyed in the countryside, and since farming is a main source of income for Haitians, severe weather can make it difficult for people to earn a living. 

The IRC is working with local authorities to develop a flood mitigation plan for the forthcoming hurricane season. (Photo:Roxanne Paisible/IRC)

In response to the recent flooding, the IRC has a team working with local authorities on flood mitigation. While in Leogane, I met with members of the Department de Protection Civile (DPC, also known as the Civil Protection Department). This agency is equivalent to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but with limited staff and resources. In fact, the DPC has only four paid staff working on logistics, evaluation, communications and emergency response. To meet the growing needs of Leogane and other communities, the DPC relies heavily on volunteers. 

Because this agency plays an important role in responding to natural disasters and emergencies, the IRC is helping it to develop a plan for the forthcoming hurricane season. I sat in on an IRC field staff meeting with DPC representatives to learn about their priorities for the rainy season, including their plans to reinforce the embankments of the Rouyonne River.

During the meeting, the DPC identified the most flood prone areas and the resources the agency would be able to contribute to the river project: 3,500 sandbags. The DPC estimated it would take 100 community members equipped with shovels and other basic materials to improve conditions in Leogane. The IRC pledged to help cover these costs and build the capacity of the DPC to carry out this important project. By working with local authorities and reinforcing their ability to respond to natural disasters, the IRC is planting the seeds for a more sustainable future for all Haitians.

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