CRS in Haiti: Slow but sure progress - Catholic Courier

CRS in Haiti: Slow but sure progress

How successful has the recovery effort from Haiti’s historic earthquake been? The way Tom Price sees it, "It depends really on which person you talk to first."

Price, a senior communications manager for Catholic Relief Services’ Haiti operations, noted that recent media coverage of the disaster’s second anniversary reflects the wide range of opinion.

"There was an AP (Associated Press) story that basically said (Haiti relief) was a failure because only half of the rubble had been cleared. On the same day, an editorial in The New York Times was praising the same fact," he remarked.

Price acknowledged that it’s "natural, to an extent" to emphasize the ongoing homelessness, poverty and disease that plague the Caribbean nation. However, he contends that positive strides — many of them made possible by CRS workers and donors — too often are ignored in secular media reports, creating a perception that relief initiatives have been ineffective and that donors’ contributions haven’t been spent wisely.

Although the accomplishments aren’t always obvious, Price said CRS’s five-year recovery plan is proceeding on schedule in such vital areas as agriculture, housing, food, water and jobs, and that he invites anyone who’s interested to "let us show you what we’re doing."

Price added that CRS, the official humanitarian relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops, remains committed for the long haul to Haitian disaster relief and other projects all over the world. Many such efforts are funded by two Lenten fundraising initiatives: Operation Rice Bowl and the annual CRS collection set to take place March 18 in parishes of this diocese (see related story on page A6).

"Our donors know that it’s a long-term process," he said.

‘Hugely complex’

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was rocked by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter located just west of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the country’s largest and most densely populated city. The Haitian government has listed the death toll at 316,000, yet other estimates put that figure as low as 46,000. Eighty percent of Haiti’s 9 million citizens are Catholic, and an estimated one-third of the overall population were affected by the quake.

Price has logged two assignments in Haiti since the epic disaster. He noted that CRS was among the first organizations involved, saying that "we were going in fifth gear" building transitional shelters, organizing medical teams to perform emergency surgeries, conducting outpatient consultations, and providing food, water, education and child protection. Now the agency’s focus has turned to recovery: repairing damaged homes so people can leave the shelters; rebuilding St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, which was 80 percent destroyed; hiring more than 12,000 people in temporary cash-for-work programs; empowering Haitians to lead the rebuilding; and initiating agricultural projects so residents can be self-sufficient.

Kathy Dubel, diocesan CRS coordinator, noted that positive feedback about these efforts was voiced in the fall of 2010, when on behalf of CRS the Rochester Diocese hosted a visit by Haitian metal artisans Jhonson Augustin and Gisele Fleurant.

"They spoke highly of CRS’ efforts in Haiti with the immediate earthquake response and CRS’ plans to partner with Haitian communities on long-term recovery and rebuilding, especially housing and jobs," Dubel said.

Price said some media reports have charged that CRS, along with other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as CARE, the Red Cross and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, sat on donors’ funds rather than spending them on immediate relief. Statistics reported on the CRS website at show the organization had collected $198 million for relief and rebuilding as of Nov. 30, 2011. Of these funds, approximately $130 million had been spent as of Nov. 30, 2011. "It’s going to be a minimum five-year program for relief and construction," Price explained. "We never said anything differently."

Indeed, in a Jan. 13, 2010, letter promoting a special U.S. parish collection for Haiti, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and then the chairman of CRS, stated that donations would be put not just toward immediate emergency needs but also toward "the long-term need to rebuild after widespread destruction, and to the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the church in Haiti."

Price said there’s a long way to go in what amounts to the largest and most complex disaster response in the history of CRS, which has served in Haiti since 1954. Yet "If you were still in one of the (transitional) camps, you’re probably not going to have any good to say," he acknowledged, adding that the severity of the disaster, combined with Haiti’s pre-existing poverty, make a speedy recovery impossible.

"You can’t look at it like I’m buying a toaster and it doesn’t work. It’s a hugely complex thing," he said.

"Before the quake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with massive, massive problems," Price pointed out, yet he said the country didn’t receive widespread scrutiny until 2010. "An earthquake brings it out into the open all of a sudden."

Many good works

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services was founded by the U.S. bishops in 1943 to help people in foreign lands who had been ravaged by World War II. The agency’s humanitarian efforts since have expanded to more than 100 countries and territories, where CRS works through local Catholic Church officials and other partners.

Price pointed out that CRS remains in the trenches long after disasters have dropped from the headlines. For instance, CRS conducted a five-year plan — similar to what it is doing in Haiti — in response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 2004. That $200 million commitment has resulted in the installation of numerous clean-water and sanitation systems along with health services, cash-for-work activities and construction of homes that can withstand future disasters in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, he said.

Price said the agency sets high standards for accountability, with 95 percent of its operating expenses going toward programs; and transparency, with numerous details available on the CRS website about how the organization puts its funding to work. Dubel observed that CRS — which has an A-plus rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy — also is a trusted organization because of its staffing.

"The CRS mission attracts people who are committed, who understand, who want the resources to go directly to people in need around the world. They have very committed, talented and experienced people," she said. "It is our humanitarian and development agency in the United States. I dearly hope more folks in the Catholic community will learn about CRS and all the good and care it extends."


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