Lessons learned from the Haiti Earthquake Response
by Editor August 2010

The special feature of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on the response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The earthquake killed more than 220,000 people and directly or indirectly affected almost one-third of the Haitian population. Although much of the early media coverage emphasised the tardiness and inefficiency of the humanitarian response, subsequent reviews have recognised the complex operating environment and the extensive challenges involved. That does not, however, mean that mistakes were not made. As Sir John Holmes reminds us  in his overview article, we must not only note our mistakes but ‘act on the lessons we have learned with speed and determination, striving constantly to improve our response.’

Many of the lessons focus on the need for the international community to engage more effectively with other key stakeholders. Articles in this issue illustrate the benefits of sustained dialogue and interaction between military actors and the need to enable poor individuals and communities to ‘build back better’. A trio of articles examine the ways in which information is collected, analysed, managed, used and shared, and address issues around stakeholder engagement. Two look at the importance of using standardised methods, enabling positive collaboration between multiple actors and building local research capacity. Another focuses on how web portals, platforms and social networking media were used to facilitate communication and access to information.

Other articles highlight innovative approaches to addressing water, sanitation and hygiene needs; lessons learned from the rapid deployment of a specially designed mobile field hospital; the work of the education cluster in Haiti; efforts by aid agencies to promote flexible, incremental approaches to secure land and housing tenure; and how close cooperation with local actors and UN and Canadian security forces facilitated rapid and efficient food distribution.

The Practice and Policy section of this issue contains articles analysing engagement between humanitarian protection actors and peacekeeping missions; the role of religion in disaster risk reduction; whether NGO engagement with the CAP process in Zimbabwe is worth the effort; continuing problems with the practical application of international codes and standards; lessons learned from a cash-for-work drainage clearance project in Niger; and guidelines highlighting the main issues facing NGOs when working with community volunteers and committees during humanitarian emergencies.