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Haiti staff outdoor offices remittances a struggle
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (1/29/10)--Intermittent remittance services and operating from open-air offices have been added to the challenges faced by credit unions, members and staff while Haiti tries to recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake that leveled its capital city.
Click to view larger image Haitians seeking remittances line up outside Fonkoze's open-air office. Fonkoze is a partner of credit unions' IRnet remittance program.
Click to view larger image Fonkoze staff process remittances for Haitian earthquake victims in an open-air office after the firm's headquarters building was destroyed.
Click to view larger image The World Council of Credit Unions' Petitionville headquarters was destroyed by tremors during Haiti's earthquake on Jan. 12. (Photos provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
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. Before the earthquake, Haiti had received nearly US$1 billion in remittance income annually, according to Saul Wolf, remittance manager for IRnet, part of the 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 is needed most, he said. "The earthquake, which has driven an increased need for liquidity, has also made cash delivery extremely difficult, especially to people in rural areas," Wolf said. "Remittance programs require an IT (information technology) infrastructure, and any that were located in Port-au-Prince were probably destroyed," he said. 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," she said. WOCCU's Haiti program recently moved to temporary office space since the earthquake destroyed its Petionville 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 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 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." To support WOCCU's relief efforts on behalf of Haiti's 175 credit unions and their 404,090 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 also can be made online with a credit card at www.woccu.org/give. For wire transfer information, contact Valerie Breunig, Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions at 608-395-2055 or via e-mail vbreunig@woccu.org. Please indicate the donation is designated for the Haiti Disaster Relief Fund. U.S. credit unions also can support WOCCU's relief efforts by donating through the NCUF at www.CUAID.coop. (See related story in News Now: "CUs pass half million mark in funds raised for Haiti").
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