Reflections on the 3rd Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake

by Judy Amit

– Global Director, JDC - International Development Program

In today’s world, where disasters occur with increasing frequency, JDC brings its global expertise to bear to save lives and rebuild devastated communities.


Over the course of nearly a century, we have helped the Jewish people face some of the toughest crises imaginable. Guided by Jewish ethics and values, we apply what we have learned since our founding to bring expert humanitarian relief to victims of natural and man-made disasters, regardless of their faith.


We were there for Haiti’s people in their time of greatest need, following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, which left some 220,000 dead and displaced some 1.5 million people. 

JDC immediately opened a mailbox for contributions, and within the first week, a disaster response team was sent into the country to evaluate needs and identify local partners.  Simultaneously, a backup office was established in Santo Domingo (in the Dominican Republic) to provide real-time support for the team on the ground, and make contingency arrangements in the event of additional earthquakes.

To date, JDC has received some $8.7 million in contributions for Haiti from the Jewish Federations of North America and from foundations and individual donors. For the latest information on our relief and rebuilding programs in Haiti, visit our website.

In the early stages of a major disaster, JDC relies upon funding from its disaster relief revolving fund, and once mailbox contributions are received, it replaces that initial outlay.  This practice is what enabled JDC, within 24 hours of the first reports of the disaster, to immediately provide funding to the Israel Defense Force's much-praised emergency field hospital to purchase incubators for premature babies and orthopedic assistive devices. 

Once JDC had helped to save as many lives as possible, it became clear that those now most in need were displaced men, women, and children, people who had lost their homes, loved ones, incomes, and everything they owned. 

It was important to restore a sense of normalcy to these displaced children, so we established 10 temporary schools that provided 3,000 children with a safe haven and enabled parents to try and rebuild their lives.  It was important to address the lack of potable water, so we provided 80 water tanks serving some 150,000 displaced Haitians.

JDC’s allocation of funding in response to disasters depends upon the nature of that specific disaster, as well as the country environment. Our preference is always to work with local NGOs, thereby strengthening local capacity.

Our rule of thumb is to allocate some 30% to first-line relief—food, water, shelter, medical assistance—and 70% to longer-term development programs focusing upon the most vulnerable populations: children, elderly, and the disabled.  Past experience has proven that in order for vulnerable populations—who are the most susceptible to disasters—to recover, we must invest in their future.

In Haiti, JDC has focused primarily on children's education and on programming related to physical disabilities, working in collaboration with Haitian, Israeli, and other NGO partners. Today, it is also engaged in leadership training for Haitian civil society.

It is difficult to celebrate achievement when we continue to see distress and need, and a long road ahead for Haiti's recovery. Yet, three years after the 2010 earthquake, we have spent 95% of our funds, and we did not abandon Haiti after the immediate needs became less visible.  JDC can be proud of the work it has done and the innovative solutions it has provided, by training individual Haitians and by building capacity with local partner organizations so they can continue this critical work once our involvement has drawn to a close.

I think this poem from our global video sums up JDC's approach in a few thoughtful lines:

In times of emergency …
 When we hear a cry for help …
 And the needs are great …
 We are there.


Sharing what we have learned over a century
 ... Helping to pick up the broken pieces of lives shattered …
 And bringing hope for a brighter future.

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