In January 2010, Haiti was hit by the most powerful earthquake to strike the country for 200 years. 3.5 million people were affected by the devastating quake and more than 1 million farm animals and pets died, were injured or abandoned.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Before the earthquake, it was already ranked 145 of 169 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. The people of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, desperately needed an action plan to protect the health of their remaining animals and their long-term livelihoods.
Nine months after the disaster, the situation was further complicated by a cholera outbreak. By July 2011, nearly 6,000 people had died and 216,000 were infected with cholera.
Dealing with immediate needs
We arrived in Port-au-Prince within a few days of the quake, swiftly delivering a coordinated and sustainable urban response. We worked closely with Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Natural Resources (MARDNR) to meet the needs of the most vulnerable communities and their animals.
We helped create and lead a coalition focused on delivering effective, coordinated solutions for both people and their animals. This coalition and the Haitian government united to develop a plan, which included creating a mobile veterinary clinic and developing a vaccination program.
Rebuilding of Haiti’s National Laboratory
Rebuilding the national Tamarinier laboratory in Haiti also helped significantly improve the welfare of animals and humans alike. The facility was particularly important, as it provided diagnostic and analytical services for the assessment and surveillance of infectious and communicable diseases.
The refurbishment of the laboratory tripled its capacity, according to MARDNR. It can now carry out 8,000 diagnostic tests per year for rabies, Newcastle disease, classic swine fever, anthrax, leptospirosis and gumboro. This was estimated to prevent the deaths of more than 100,000 poultry, 30,000 swine, 5,000 cattle and 50,000 pets. It also ensures the protection of more than 500,000 people from infection and zoonotic diseases.
Prevention of animal deaths in numbers
Mobile clinic and vaccination
The mobile clinic was run by a team of local vets who provided free veterinary care and vaccinations to more than 50,000 animals. To store the vaccinations at an appropriate temperature, we created 12 solar cold chain units and provided 100 smaller portable cooler boxes. This units were designed to be used all year round, independent of electricity.
The cold chain units increased the country’s capacity to respond to disease outbreaks. This sustainable program ensures animal health protection and aims to protect public health through providing vaccinations for diseases such as anthrax and rabies.
We also developed an animal census in Port-au-Prince which gave the MARDNR useful data for vaccination programs and other issued relating to public health. The budget for this operation was more than USD $1 million.
An aerial view of the damage in Port au Prince, Haiti after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale hit in January 2010
Public service announcement
Earthquake preparedness plans included the development of a community public service announcement. This material was created in the local language, creole, and considered local cultural and social specific characteristics.
The message was promoted through TV, radio and other media. It helped successfully change attitudes towards the importance of disaster risk reduction concepts, particularly around the inclusion of animals into family preparedness plans.
Focus groups were held at the beginning of this campaign and at the end to evaluate people’s views on preparedness and their perceptions on their animals and saving them during a disaster. The key findings from these focus groups were that, although the frequency in which the participants took their animals to the vet on a regular basis had not changed (mainly due to access or affordability), all had heard of the vaccination campaign with half of the participants accessing the program.
This qualitative data is extremely useful in gauging where longer term public service announcements and education could be extremely effective in disaster preparedness, but also regarding animal welfare standards and considerations. A clear distinction can be made in peoples understanding on their animals and how important they are to them both during and in between disasters.
Achieving results in Haiti wasn’t easy.
The devastating situation after the earthquake provided challenges including damaged roads, security difficulties and the possibility of getting sick.
Building on experience and what works is key. The following learnings were discovered:
- The value of working side-by-side with local authorities and communities, learning their immediate needs, and concerns and responding to these.
- Patience is a must - training processes cannot be rushed.
- Consider local language, culture and social differences as a central issue. It's vital that messages are clearly understood.