Working to Protect their City – Hurricane Protection Success in Gonaives, Haiti

Working to Protect their City – Hurricane Protection Success in Gonaives, Haiti

When the hurricanes and tropical storms hit Haiti in 2004 and 2008, one of the most affected cities was Gonaives (170 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince). This coastal city of approximately 200,000 has a special importance to Haiti since it was here that independence was declared in 1804. Yet it is situated unfortunately at the bottom of a semi-circle of mountains all of whose ravines and slopes usher any storm water down towards the sea-level city of Gonaives. With the deforestation of Haiti’s mountain in recent years the water that bar-rels down the mountains brings with it all the top soil from the slopes burying Gonaives in catastrophic mudslides and floods.

Noel Dieuseul“When the waters came, my six children and I were swept away more than 50 meters from our house,” says Jésula Jean Pierre, 46, a resident of Gonaives remembering Hurricane Hanna that hit the city two years ago in September 2008. Four years before that, when Hurricane Jeanne caused Gonaives to flood in mid-September 2004, her husband was one of the 3,000 people killed in Haiti – close to 2,900 of those in the city of Gonaives. “My children and I were able to escape alive from the mudslides with the help of our neighbors,” says Jésula of the second time in four years that the hurricanes hit Gonaives. But her house, small business and small crop land were completely destroyed.

Noel Dieuseul, 37, also escaped with his family during the 2008 hurricane floods that hit Gonaives. “I was terrified when I saw the volume of water and the mud coming down the canals,” he says, “but all of us, my mother, my two brothers, my wife and two children were able to escape alive.” Noel’s house, which is on the border of one of the city’s main canalways, was not greatly damaged. “After the floods,” recalls Noel, “all the windows and doors of my house were blown in and the furniture, kitchen utensils and everything in the house was carried away and destroyed by the flood waters and mud.”

Working on the canalBoth Noel and Jésula are part of CHF’s cash-for- work teams involved in the city-wide constructions funded by USAID aimed to prepare and protect the city of Gonaives against flooding and mud-slides. Noel, who is a masonry technician, has been working on the construction of the Bienac Canal which when finished will run 1.7 kilometers and is 2 meters deep, with a cement base of close to 10 meters wide. There are 150 CFW employed everyday in the construction of this Canal, which is one of three main Canal ways being constructed by CHF with USAID funds. Dozens of smaller drainage canals connect to these big canal-ways, all of which run down to drain out in the sea.

In total, 15,530 linear meters of drainage canals have been built by CHF with USAID funds in Gonaives. In these works over 5,600 people have been employed through the cash-for-work programs. This pro-gram involves the community in bettering the conditions of their city but also serves to inject some much needed cash into the local economy.

“With the money I received from working on the project,” says Jésula, “I paid some of my debts, bought building material to reconstruct my house and have been able to feed my children.” Jésula has also been able to re-start her small commerce of retail selling.

Noel’s wife had wanted to leave their house and the city and relocate somewhere else. But with the new project of building the canal they feel assured that they will not have to live through the same type of catastrophe as those experienced in the past four years.

Noel himself, though a trained stonework technician, has difficulty finding work. He often travels to the Dominican Republic to find work, but has been grateful for the opportunity to work under the USAID funded project. “I am happy to be doing this work because the rain before had caused much damage and now things will be much better.”