PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In a country where remittance income comprises nearly 25% of the gross domestic product, the loss of facilities and availability of only intermittent power and Internet services are making it difficult for family and friends to send much-needed cash home to Haiti.
Prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake that leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti received close to US$1.3 billion in remittance income annually, according to Saul Wolf, remittance manager for IRnet®, part of World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) for-profit subsidiary, WOCCU Services Group. Logistical issues caused by the disaster have made getting cash to Haiti an enormous challenge at a time when it's needed most.
"The earthquake, which has driven an increased need for liquidity, has also made cash delivery extremely difficult, especially to people in rural areas," said Wolf. "Remittance programs require an IT infrastructure, and any that were located in Port-au-Prince were probably destroyed."
|Fonkoze staff process remittances for Haitian earthquake victims in their open-air office after the firm's headquarters building was destroyed.|
Remittance delivery organizations such as Fonkoze, a partner with WOCCU in the Haiti Integrated Financing for Value Chains and Enterprises (HIFIVE) program, have found ways around the problem, most likely using a back-up server located elsewhere and relying on intermittent Internet access, Wolf said. Fonkoze is Haiti's largest microfinance organization and serves roughly 200,000 people, primarily in rural areas. With its building destroyed in the earthquake, Fonkoze was forced to set up operations in an open-air courtyard near the rubble of its headquarters, according to Greta Greathouse, WOCCU chief of party for the HIFIVE program.
"Many of us have had ‘outdoor' offices this week," said Greathouse. WOCCU's Haiti program recently moved to temporary office space since the earthquake destroyed its Pétionville facilities. Greathouse has signed a lease agreement enabling WOCCU to move into new permanent office space within 30 days.
Logistics aren't the only problem Haiti's remittance recipients face, Wolf said. Individuals carrying cash in any amount become targets for thieves in a disaster environment. The fact that many such recipients no longer have homes and are forced to sleep outside simply compounds the problem, he added.
"Prior to the earthquake, we had planned to work with local partners like Fonkoze to help increase market competition and lower prices for remittance senders and recipients in Haiti," Wolf said. "Now we will simply have to wait and see."
|WOCCU's Pétionville headquarters was destroyed by tremors during Haiti's earthquake.|
To support WOCCU's relief efforts on behalf of Haiti's credit unions and their members, make payments via check, credit card or wire to:
Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, Inc., 5710 Mineral Point Road, Madison, WI 53705, USA
Donations may be made online with a credit card at www.woccu.org /give. For wire transfer information, contact: Valerie Breunig, Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, +1-608-395-2055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate that your donation is for the Haiti Disaster Relief Fund.
U.S. credit unions can also support WOCCU's relief efforts by donating through the National Credit Union Foundation's CUAid system at www.CUAid.coop.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.