Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 storm, devastated the southern region of Haiti. The Haiti-based Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED) subsequently implemented a mixed-methods study in some of the most affected areas. The study aimed to assess these communities’ perceived needs, as well as identify and map local resources and assets critical to their equitable recovery and reconstruction. Six months after the hurricane, 93% of study participants still lacked a suitable place to live, 83% had suffered a post-hurricane illness (e.g., malaria, dysentery), and 73% reported suffering from distress. Additionally, Hurricane Matthew devastated the agrarian and fisheries-based local economy, threatening workers’ livelihoods while posing immediate threats of food insecurity. The study also found that pre-existing conditions of poor infrastructure were exacerbated by the hurricane. For instance, less than a quarter of participants had access to potable water or a toilet/latrine.
Since then, limited institutional investments have been made in disaster preparedness, despite the fact that natural disasters pose an existential threat to Haiti, due to its geographic location, deforestation, high levels of poverty and minimal resources. Short-term humanitarian interventions have had minimal impact, at best, and in some cases have even exacerbated the population’s vulnerability to disaster.
One year after the hurricane, INURED returned to five rural and semi-rural communities in the region to begin visual documentation of the recovery process over a 5-year period. At each site, two local community members were trained in ethnographic research methods, including in-depth interviews and observations as well as the of use visual technologies for the purpose of storytelling. They were thus empowered to document and recount their own stories of survival, recovery and reconstruction. The resulting documentary is designed to educate researchers, policymakers, community-based and environmental activists, humanitarian workers, and others about the process of recovery and reconstruction among marginalized, and in some cases impoverished, communities in rural Haiti. In this documentary, victims of Hurricane Matthew present their stories of disaster recovery and reconstruction, educating viewers about the vulnerabilities they must contend with on a daily basis as well as the well-intentioned humanitarian interventions which have exacerbated local risks. The documentary will be followed by a roundtable discussion which will introduce the project and discuss how communities in southern Haiti understand disaster recovery and reconstruction (and wellbeing more generally) in the context of their everyday realities. The roundtable will also explore the measures communities have taken, or hope to take, in order to mitigate future risks.