Interview with Jérôme Besnier – Operations Coordinator for Handicap International’s Emergency Response Division in Haiti
Almost two years after Haiti was hit by a major earthquake, Handicap International is preparing to wind down its emergency operations to refocus its efforts on its specialist development teams. We look back at the work accomplished so far. When Haiti was struck by an earthquake in January 2010, Handicap International launched an unprecedented emergency response to provide immediate aid to the disaster’s victims. Involved in a variety of operations, including logistical support, epidemic control, assistance for vulnerable individuals, orthopaedic-fitting, rehabilitation services, and the building of temporary shelters, the organisation was able to draw on its expertise across a range of fields.
After nearly two years of intense activity, it is time for Handicap International’s emergency teams to take stock of its initial achievements and begin a phased transition towards development actions, with a view to providing support for local structures and operations in aid of people with disabilities.
For Jérôme Besnier, who recently spent a year as an emergency operations coordinator in Haiti, an enormous amount has already been achieved: “Although the challenges we face are still immense – particularly in terms of reconstruction, prevention and the management of natural disasters - I feel that things are really moving forward. In some sectors the scars of the earthquake are beginning to fade, allowing us to gradually concentrate our efforts on more structural challenges. There’s an enormous amount of work left to be done, at every level, from reconstruction and the health system to the economic development of the country in general, but it’s already satisfying to say that we can now turn our full attention to these issues.”
From the first months of the operation, Handicap International’s teams were faced with a major challenge: going beyond its emergency relief effort and providing sustainable support based on development actions. “All of our efforts to meet the immediate needs of the local population turn out to have had an impact that goes far beyond our expectations. Working on the accessibility of temporary shelters for people with disabilities, for example, and on sanitary facilities and public buildings, currently under reconstruction, has helped develop work routines and provided examples of best practices that should now be applied more widely in the design of new buildings.”
People whose work touches on disabilities have also been able to build their technical capacities. “At the Functional Rehabilitation Centre (FRC) we set up in Port au Prince, we work with Haitian specialists who will be able to carry over this orthopaedic-fitting and rehabilitation work to other facilities. It’s very satisfying to see that Haiti is gradually restoring and developing its capacity to case-manage these types of services autonomously.”
All of the projects organised over the last two years have been put in place with remarkable efficiency, underlines Jérôme Besnier: “In the end, it’s quite incredible, given the scope of the operation and the fact that we were working under such a lot of pressure to meet acute needs as quickly as possible, that everything worked out so well! Most of the projects were actually pilot projects, in terms of their design or scale, but we were able to rely on the emergency expertise of Handicap International and the remarkable dedication of the teams on the ground to ensure our operations - logistical, reconstruction, psychological support, sanitation, orthopaedic-fitting and rehabilitation – were a success. I think that we can be proud of everything we have accomplished to date.”