Home Selected Post-Earthquake Dispatches 2010 Ten Additional Commandments for Working with Haitian Earthquake Environmental Refugees and Victims...

Ten Additional Commandments for Working with Haitian Earthquake Environmental Refugees and Victims of Cholera


Four days after the earthquake in January 12, HRDF published a dispatch in response to calls for help and guidance to medical and other relief teams.  The dispatch was titled: “Ten Commandments for Responding to Environmental Refugees,” recognizing that the earthquake victims were refugees from a natural disaster, they were fleeing danger and they needed refuge.  The dispatch also drew on the experience of HRDF in Haiti for almost thirty years, much of the time focusing on disaster preparedness, emergency medicine and community emergency response.  The dispatch is appended below.

In our opinion, the earthquake victims are still refugees and, worse, they are also vulnerable to the outbreak of cholera.  While people outside the camp are free to move around the country, most of the earthquake victims are not free to move.  Their ability to protect themselves is very limited; therefore others have to do it for them.

The following “Ten Additional Commandments” may afford the refugees some protection.  They roughly fall into three categories:  a) the public, including the refugees, b) the health and safety workers from Haiti and from all over the world and c) the government.


1) No bare feet anywhere in the country.  Therefore, this requires the wearing of protective, washable shoes or sandals at all times and by all ages: children, youths and adults.

2) Constant hand-washing with soap and clean water, especially when handling food, before eating, after using the toilet, before and after changing diapers, before collecting and distributing water, before going to sleep at night and immediately after waking-up in the morning, and before and after attending to sick people.

3) Complete body wash daily, using soap, clean water and a clean, dry towel.


4) Replacement of pit toilets with composting toilets having containers that can be removed and sealed for composting in isolated sites.  This must be accompanied by adequate supplies of toilet paper, and nearby faucets for washing hands with soap and clean water immediately after use.

5)  Because of the increased and required washing, efficient and safe removal and decontamination of waste water must be provided.

6) Random, representative tests among the population and relief workers on a regular basis.

7) Strict adherence to hygiene and safety protocols when attending to the needs of the population, whether the healthy, the ill or the suspected ill.

8) Sanitation firebreaks around and inside communities, especially refugee camps, with constant attention to disinfecting the environment and the isolation and disposal of wastes of all kinds.


9) Thorough protective control of land and people by a) containment or quarantine of infected and/or suspected communities, landscape and bodies of water and b) exclusion of threats to uninfected communities, landscape and bodies of water.

10) Constant and comprehensive monitoring and public reporting of the quality of the environment and the health of the people not limited to trouble spots. 


Haitian Resource Development Foundation


[Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 15, 2010, Americans HRDF Director Dr. Aldy Castor of Florida and environmental refugees and ecological restoration specialist Stuart Leiderman of New Hampshire were at HRDF headquarters in Port-au-Prince at the above address.  Right before the earthquake, they had returned from a week’s work in the southern coastal city of Aquin, continuing HRDF’s work with residents on disaster preparedness, ecological restoration, flood control and mountainside catchment lakes. The following was drafted in response to requests for guidance in preparing, bringing and maintaining appropriate relief for Haitian earthquake survivors whom Castor and Leiderman consider environmental refugees.  They welcome your questions and comments.]

The Haitian Earthquake has caused a “complex emergency” involving most of the country’s population and most of its natural environment. As defined by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a complex emergency is a “humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society where there is a total or considerable breakdown of authority resulting from internal or external conflict and which requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single and/or ongoing UN country program”.  In the case, the violence has come from the depths of the Earth rather than from the barrels of guns, and the international response must also address the damaged environment before the survivors can reinhabit their homeland.

Therefore both the country’s population its natural environment must be understood and addressed by the visiting teams. For example, it will not be sufficient to treat people in a hospital and send them “home,” because they probably have nowhere to go.  Seen this way, environmental refugees suffer more greatly than other categories of refugees.  Humanitarian response is necessary but not sufficient.   Thus, the following “ten commandments” for responding to environmental refugees are offered to help responders move beyond “necessary” and closer to “sufficient.

1) Know before you go.  In the best of times, it may usually take a week or more preparation for every day’s work in Haiti, depending on whether the work will be for education, construction, health services, environmental research, etc.  Post-earthquake, plan on devoting much more time in preparation for each day you will be “on the ground.”  Especially because much of the population is or will be in motion, in search of security, supplies and settlement, there must be more precise knowledge of people, places, roadways, access and egress, their interrelations and potential reactions to your presence.

2) If you are a highly specialized humanitarian team, for example a group of surgeons, you will probably be more effective by partnering with a specialized environmental team that may complement your work.  For example, an environmental team with expertise in Haitian traditional medicine may help your patients recover more quickly from surgery.

3) No matter what the specialties, all teams should include some members with humanitarian understanding and experience, e.g. with social psychology, grief counseling, family and community dynamics, and some members with environmental expertise, e.g. with water, sanitation, waste management and resettlement needs. This is because many teams may find themselves working all alone in certain areas. It cannot be assumed that one sided response, either humanitarian or environmental, will be sufficient and keep anyone alive for very long.

4) The magnitudes and quality of disaster conditions encountered in Haiti will likely be many times worse than previously encountered elsewhere. Therefore, the teams should be many times more experienced, cautious, funded, supplies and backed up than usual. For example, search and rescue teams in Haiti will not only encounter building debris but large amounts of uncollected garbage, raw and decomposed  human waste, and infectious dust and dirt that cannot be avoided.

5) Teams must include articulate and observant Haitian nationals who can bridge and make the best of the inevitable wide gaps in language, literacy, comprehension, stamina, availability and use of technology, performance standards and procedures, and punctuality. For example, where sometimes a team’s sophisticated, high-tech or big -approach may work best, and at other times a native Haitian approach may prove to be superior.  This cannot be predicted.

6) Think twice before putting environmental refugees back where they were before disaster struck them. The goal should always be to return them to places that are safer, healthier and more functional than before, in other words, ecologically restored.

7) Teams must stay focused. They cannot allow their mission to be distracted, corrupted, or politicized by the refugees, by the government, by business interest or by any others.

8) Teams should build elements of sustainability into their missions. Investments in infrastructure must also fully include resources for continued operation, maintenance and transfer of knowledge.

9) Every team should have an exit strategy.  Preparation and placement for egress can take as much time, energy and expense as the process of insertion and staying in-country

10) Each team mission should have at least two goals. First, to give teams members the satisfaction of solving problems in their fields of expertise. Second, to bring pride and confidence to the survivors, in this case helping Haitians become independent, ecological, prepared and ultimately capable of assembling and sending their own teams when disastrous natural and manmade events cause environmental refugees in other parts of the world.

The Haitian Resource Development Foundation prioritizes programs that enable and empower various Haitian locales to further personal and collective independence. Engaging in a range of programs over 20 years, the HRDF continues a commitment to providing measurable results for program beneficiaries and program benefactors. Working with multiple international partners from North America and Europe, the HRDF is committed to fundamental improvements in Haitian villages to ensure greater economic vitality in the near future.