Partnership in Action: Lessons Learned Following Haiti Floods

by | 10.21.2011 at 9:59am | 3 Comments
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Flood relief efforts, immediate needs assessments, and coordinated damage assessments in Haiti’s Côte Sud region are underway following the rains and flooding that began October 9 and continued through October 11. The Earth Institute Haiti team, working through the CSI partnership, Millennium Village Project (MVP) sector leads, and with the Government of Haiti, are jointly responding to the immediate needs and long-term vulnerability reduction options. This is part II of a two-part blog: find Part I here.

By Alex Fischer and Marc Levy

After days of heavy rain, a flood wall of the Port-à-Piment river is breached. Heavy rainfall over the extended period October 9-11 increased the amount of water flowing down the mountains, causing the rivers to overflow their banks and destroy what lay in their paths, from agricultural fields to homes to infrastructure.

Despite Haiti’s continued, and arguably increasing, disaster vulnerability, the country lacks advanced flood modeling and early warning systems. The communities at the base of the watersheds “sleep with their eyes open” because of historically ingrained fear and experience that even small amounts of precipitation in the upper elevations may result in major flooding within a few hours.

The floods this past week gave credence to this fear. The MVP team, including local technical teams from CRS, ORE and local community-based organizations, with support from UNOPS and UNEP and the Earth Institute’s research teams, is making sustained, integrated interventions towards not only reducing vulnerability but also increasing local capacity for disaster preparedness and resiliency.

The flooding caused both direct and indirect impacts.  The CSI team’s rapid assessments identified a loss of crops and livestock, significant landslides, isolation of villages and homes due to destroyed roads, and destruction of recently completed flood protection infrastructure.  The indirect impacts include the potential for increased malnutrition and further cholera outbreaks.

A boy stands in front of his home after the floods have receded, in Coteaux. There, fast-moving flood waters brought silt and debris along with them. After the waters receded, the heavy rubble was left behind.

Key “Lessons Learned”/ Possible Future Applications

Short-term responses:

  1. Emergency Communication: Improve the emergency communication plan and tools in the Côte Sud area.  With limited cell phone service in the higher elevations, short-wave radio might be an affordable emergency communication system for these situations.
  2. Damage Assessments : Conduct immediate damage and needs assessments through extension agents and local disaster protection committees.  This can be done quickly and cheaply through SMS based reporting tools, already being designed and distributed through the CSI partnership. This can be built from systems like the agricultural monitoring project that the Earth Institute’s Center for Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment and Modi Research Group are developing with CSI partners.
  3. Here in Les Anglais, as in other areas overwhelmed by flood damage and an increasing need for medical and emergency supplies, deliveries were coordinated by CSI partners and the UN and managed on the ground by workers of the Cholera Treatment Centers and the National Police.

  4. Health and Survival: Continue provision and coordination of health care and emergency food supplies for remote populations. The CSI Support Programme facilitated the mobilization of helicopter missions, supplying health kits to the most remote areas in the watershed. The multi-partner CSI health team was fully part of the humanitarian effort in support to the Ministry of Health (MSPP).
  5. Infrastructure and access: Continue close coordination, technical support, and assistance between the CSI infrastructure sector and the Haitian Ministry of Public Works in assessing post-flood structural needs, including rehabilitation of roads. CSI is also prepared to assist the affected region by guiding and directing a team of engineers who would be sent by MINUSTAH.
  6. Hunger Monitoring: Monitor food insecurity hotspots and potential secondary impacts from flooding on loss of crops and overall food security.

Medium-Term Responses:

  1. Flood Modeling: Improve modeling and monitoring of rainfall and surface water to integrate into early warning systems.  The spatial variation of rainfall and models of surface water response to rainfall is critical for improved early warning.  Professor Wade McGillis and his teams are currently working on these systems.
  2. Emergency Supplies: Build warehouses and storage units for emergency supplies and ensure proper supply management to refill them before potential heavy rainfall events. Coordinate this through local protection committees and agricultural cooperatives.
  3. Emergency Information Communications: Use rapid SMS or hand-held device to prepare and train local Civil Protection Committees to report damage and needs during emergency events. Such devices can send photos and simple surveys, providing critical support to coordination and communication efforts.

Major flooding of the Anglais river caused severe erosion of the river's banks, straining the already fragile ecosystem. Here, precious trees, whose roots are critical in preventing mass erosion, are carried away by the floods.

Long-Term Responses

  1. Using community mapping and high-resolution spatial analysis, target long-term ecosystem restoration projects and infrastructure investments to systematically reduce erosion across the entire watershed.

This is the second of a two-part blog. Part I discussed the severe flooding in southwest Haiti in the CSI area, as well as the successful collaboration of the CSI partnership and the Government of Haiti as they mobilized to gather information and address needs in the face of potential disaster.

The Côte Sud Initiative is a major collaboration between the United Nations, the Earth Institute, and the Government of Haiti that works on a regional level to implement sustainable approaches to solve some of the country’s most pressing challenges: post-disaster recovery, economic and social development, environmental stabilization and restoration, and disaster risk management. Working in tandem with regional efforts is the Port-à-Piment Millennium Village, the first Millennium Village Project in the Western Hemisphere, which aims to demonstrate the power of collaborative thematic and integrated approaches to development from the local to the regional scale. The CSI and MVP are components of the Haiti Regeneration Initiative. For more information, visit www.haitiregeneration.org.


Alex Fischer is program manager for Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and Cote Sud Initiative (CSI) technical and research coordinator.

Marc Levy is CIESIN deputy director and principal investigator for Earth Institute research projects in the CSI.

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3 Responses to “Partnership in Action: Lessons Learned Following Haiti Floods”

  1. [...] This is Part I of a two-part blog: find Part II here. [...]

  2. [...] Finally, the installation of rain gauges and tools to monitor rainfall and climate patterns will allow Earth Institute researchers to develop a community-based approach to manage Haiti’s watersheds within the reality of extreme environmental degradation and the serious impact of continual hurricanes and floods. This includes establishing a monitoring network for baseline data on the quantity and quality of surface water within the project area, crucial particularly with regard to the ongoing cholera epidemic that has affected the entire country. The particular stations installed and the data collected will help inform the creation of an early warning system for floods, so that communities will not be caught unprepared for these natural disasters, as was the case during the most recent serious floods in October 2011. [...]

  3. [...] a total of 14 inches of water in the town of Port-à-Piment over the span of three days. The three days of sustained rain in October 2011 caused massive flooding and resulted in an increase in obsered cholera cases and isolation of [...]

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