Issue 71 - Article 7

The evolution of an area-based programme: Concern Worldwide’s experience in Port-au-Prince

March 27, 2018
Chris Pain and Hanne Vrebos
Women participating in rebuilding their neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince

Suggestions for integrated approaches, particularly in a rural development context, have been with us for many years – stretching back to at least the late 1970s. Similar thinking in an urban humanitarian context is more recent. In 2010, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) highlighted the complex challenges urban areas pose for humanitarian action, demanding a deeper understanding of the spatial and social structures of cities and the need for a ‘paradigm shift in humanitarian assistance in urban areas based on a district or community-based, rather than, individual beneficiary based, approach’ with the intention of forging partnerships with actors on the ground. In their comprehensive review of area-based approaches in urban humanitarian work, Parker and Maynard highlight that the concept has been promoted by various agencies at a global level, including the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the Global Shelter Cluster (GSC). Elizabeth Parker and Victoria Maynard, Humanitarian Response to Urban Crises: A Review of Area-based Approaches, IIED Working Paper, 2015, They go on to identify three defining characteristics of an ABA in an urban context:

  • They are geographically targeted, with two different ways of defining the area – through an existing government administrative area or through the physical features of the urban environment, which in turn can foster a sense of social or community identity.
  • They adopt a multi-sectoral approach to address a variety of needs, embracing a range of social, economic and physical development objectives.
  • They take a participatory approach, with a strong emphasis on community and wider stakeholder engagement to identify potential solutions, and where the active involvement of local authorities is also critical.

This article shows how Concern Worldwide’s intervention in Grande Ravine in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has attempted to address each of these aspects, highlighting some of the challenges along the way as the programme evolved in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and balancing individual and community needs, keeping the most vulnerable at the centre of the intervention.

Geographical targeting

Concern has had a presence in Port-au-Prince since 1994, and in response to the earthquake of 12 January 2010 worked both in camps and directly with earthquakeaffected communities, to help them return to their old neighbourhoods and try to restore their old lives. Growing from these interventions, the organisation undertook a comprehensive contextual analysis in Grand Ravine, one of the oldest slums in Martissant, in 2012. This helped to identify the extreme poor, the reasons they were poor and the major challenges they faced. These included the lack of the most basic infrastructure and services, with the area prone to regular flooding and a high risk of landslides during the rainy season. Informal settlements had been built without adherence to construction standards or laws, leaving little space for domestic traffic and other infrastructure. Ongoing threats of violence between competing gangs paralysed the development of the neighbourhood. The Integrated Reconstruction and Development Programme for Grand Ravine was designed to contribute to sustainable improvements in the living environment of neighbourhoods in the area. The project is part of the European Union (EU)-funded Programme d’appui à la reconstruction et à l’aménagement de Quartiers – Haïti (PARAQ) 2011–2016. Implementation began in February 2013 and ran until December 2017, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the local community.

Multi-sectoral intervention

Interventions addressed the broad living environment and individual poverty, while working closely with the local authority to develop a plan for the area, and with the community, to increase community cohesion. Community-level infrastructure was constructed, including reinforcing the ravine with the installation of gabions, planting trees upstream and soil retention works, construction of canals, the development of the entrance to Grand Ravine to open up the neighbourhood, the improvement of public spaces, the construction of 48 apartments and a bridge over the ravine to maintain access during heavy rainfall. The community claims that these interventions mitigated the effects of seasonal rains and seem to have limited the impact of Cyclone Matthew in 2016. The provision of 248 street lights reduced insecurity in Grand Ravine and surrounding neighbourhoods, extending the length of the working day for small businesses and allowing children to study in the evening and community members to socialise in the cooler evening hours. However, undertaking such large-scale infrastructure work required different skills to those that normally exist within a Concern programme, such as managing large construction companies and undertaking national tenders for their selection. For this reason, Concern Worldwide collaborated with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in implementing these major projects.

Individual livelihoods

In parallel, the programme aimed to build individual livelihoods. This included support for establishing a bakery for 39 young women, training almost 40 people in construction work and the provision of temporary jobs for 2,104 construction workers. While there was some success in creating shortterm jobs in the construction sector, providing an injection of capital, it has been challenging to help young people into long-term, sustainable employment. One of the clear lessons from the intervention is the need to ensure that programme participants are interested in the particular subject area, and to ensure enough links so that participants can find appropriate employment. A second lesson has been the need to undertake a comprehensive market assessment to make sure that there is demand for the skills being generated. There is also a need to spend time with participants before training starts, and provide them with information on the different training options and the type of future employment they can expect after the training.

Participatory approach

The community was at the centre of the Grand Ravine intervention. Of particular importance was the establishment and strengthening of a community platform (Plateforme Communautaire, PC) including a secretariat and three commissions dealing with sanitation, infrastructure and economic development. The PC comprised 29 members (seven of them women) from 11 sectors, including schools, trade, women, youth and artists, the vodou, churches, civil protection, peace committees, community leaders, community-based organisations and representatives of the local armed gang. A series of workshops in 2015 focused on the platform’s role, function, vision and mission, and (in 2014) on group facilitation, hygiene promotion, conflict management, community sensitisation and protection. This has contributed to the development of social assets in the area, and leadership training for community leaders has an indirect, but strong, impact on the extreme poor. People who received training to build leadership capacity highlighted the benefits in their work with the community and in their dialogue with community members. Issues around the sustainability of these community structures need to be considered from the start of the process to make sure they can survive without support from Concern.

A key element of community participation in the intervention has been the Complaints Response Mechanism (CRM) implemented as part of the intervention. One of the surprising lessons has been that community members would much rather speak directly with field agents or prefer to present their grievances in community meetings than pass them on over the phone.

A third key element was that much of the construction and maintenance work has been done by community members. In total, 148 skilled workers were trained in various aspects of construction, and local technicians were trained in the maintenance of the streetlights. The programme also underlined the need to include elements of community outreach, citizenship and the role of citizens in the proper use of and respect for public property. Management committees have been established and accompanied, for instance to help people living near the streetlights to implement small maintenance works.

Engaging local authorities

In addition to work with the community, another element that contributed to the success of the programme was the close working relationship with the local authorities. This culminated in the production of the Grand Ravine Urban Development Plan by partner Architecture for Humanity. The plan was developed in collaboration with and approved by both the community itself and the government (under the Comité Interministériel d’Aménagement du Territoire, or CIAT) in 2014, and was clearly in line with government policies. It included a development vision for the neighbourhood in the short (three years), mid- (ten years) and long (30 years) term. One of the main goals of the plan is to provide basic services and improve living conditions, while at the same time discouraging the further urbanisation of Morne l’Hôpital, a large chain of mountains that encircles the capital on its southern and eastern sides.

Further successes in the area have centred on developing a dialogue with the Town Hall, the MTPTC (Ministère des Travaux Publics, Transport et Communication), DINEPA (Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement) and the Office of the Cadastre to share information, coordinate responses, discuss possibilities for collaboration and support needs, as well as strengthening links between state bodies and the community. The programme has also developed links with other service providers, with much of the work on vocational training delivered by the Centre Polyvalent de Formation Professionnelle de Carrefour (CPFP-C) and the Institut de la Reussite de la Formation Professionnelle.

Accountability and management

Communicating the results of the programme has served to improve negative images of Grand Ravine. This has included photography and videos focused on the physical transformation of the neighbourhood and the impacts on the community. The programme also undertook a consultation process on urban development as a contribution to the 2016 Habitat III Conference in Quito.


Our experience in implementing the Grand Ravine programme suggests four clear lessons.

1. Individual versus community focus

When working in complex urban areas, impact is increased by focusing simultaneously on a neighbourhood or area approach and targeting individuals. The establishment of bodies and structures such as the PC helped to catalyse local change, and their clear link to the community increased community confidence. Community meetings have strengthened the links between the Concern team and local people, as well as making it easier for beneficiaries to give feedback on the programme. It also provides an opportunity to explain any delays. For this to work, communities and community leaders need to be involved from the start, and be at the forefront.

2. Long-term presence and response

Programmes that link humanitarian reconstruction and resilience-building take a long time – a function of building trust and addressing community divisions. Some of the initial barriers can be broken down through the delivery of short-term interventions and projects to motivate participants. In this particular case, the street lights were a huge success and benefited the community immediately. Sequencing interventions is important, starting with ‘easier’ infrastructure work before moving on to more challenging community-building activities. Our experience suggests that area-based humanitarian interventions require a continued presence on the ground.

3. Costs and resources

Undertaking interventions such as the one described here costs a lot of money, in this case almost €7 million; this requires a funding plan to address the challenges identified by the community, targeted at a variety of local and international organisations and donors. Additional challenges relate to physical accessibility and the reputation of the neighbourhood, which can complicate logistics.

4. Partnerships and advocacy

Finally, it is clear that no one agency can do this alone. The relationship with CRS (which took on much of the supervision of the construction work), the local authority (the Mairie) and Architecture for Humanity in the development of the community plan, local service providers and specific government agencies, as well as smaller community-based organisations such as ACHKO, are essential to making this work. Partnerships require continued effort to develop capacities, and advocacy efforts to ensure that other agencies take responsibility in the implementation of this type of urban programme.

Chris Pain is Head of Technical Assistance, Concern Worldwide. Hanne Vrebos is Urban Adviser Port-au-Prince, Concern Worldwide.


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