Haiti has always been at-risk of hurricanes. But never has it faced that risk while one million of its citizens live in tent cities. With the stakes higher than ever, community education on how Haitians can prepare themselves and their families could save thousands of lives, this year and for many hurricane seasons to come.
“Stagnant water increases the risk for waterborne disease, malaria, and dengue. Keep ditches clear of trash and debris.”
This is just one of the dozens of health messages that International Medical Corps is sending out to Haiti’s hurricane-prone communities with support from the European Union (ECHO). For two days in September, International Medical Corps produced one-hour radio specials in the vulnerable communities of Petit Goave and Jacmel on emergency preparedness and what specific steps locals can take in the event that a large tropical storm occurs.
“Many people in Haiti do not have the information they need to protect themselves during a hurricane or flood,” says Dr. Robert Gilles, Program Coordinator for International Medical Corps’ disaster risk reduction program. “To overcome this lack of information, International Medical Corps created radio shows encouraging citizens to react reasonably and responsibly during hurricane season.”
The radio specials brought together representatives from the government, UN, and local agencies. In both Petit Goave and Jacmel, many of the key actors who work on emergency alert and response explained how locals can prepare and what services are in place to support them before a disaster strikes.
“The success of this project would not have been possible without the input of members from the Direction de la Protection Civile (DPC), IOM (International Organization for Migration), and other local authorities,” says Dr. Jojo Cangao, International Medical Corps’ Medical Director.
The radio specials also emphasized that disaster alerts, based on information from Haiti’s meteorology center, and instructions will be issued solely by the DPC, Haiti’s civil protection agency, and diligent attention must be paid to those announcements in the event of an emergency.
“If citizens want to minimize risks in case of tropical storms or flooding, they must strictly observe the instructions issued by the DPC,” said Mrs. Germaine Pierre Louis, President of the southeastern regional committee of the Haitian Red Cross, who joined the Jacmel radio program.
A major contributor to the 2010 contingency plan for southeastern Haiti and member of the DPC, Ronald Louis, joined the panel in Petit Goave to raise awareness on practical steps Haitians can take to reduce risks. He was joined by Dr. Gilles, who delivered critical information about first aid and the role that sanitation and hygiene, i.e. making sure drainage canals are functioning properly, play in maintaining good health.
At the end of each radio show, listeners had the opportunity to call or text in their questions. Responses poured in by phone and SMS. In Jacmel, the audience was concerned whether the DPC has established a clinic for the wounded. Others wanted to know what specifically they should do when different alerts are issued.
“These radio shows were a priceless opportunity for local authorities and international organizations to connect with the people they are there to serve,” says Ronald Louis. “Preparing and planning is only effective if those affected are involved and invested and we hope that these radio specials helped do just that.”