Haiti: Still in ruins a year after quake

2011-01-11 14:04

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Port-au-Prince - The man's body was face down, his white dress shirt shining like wax in the sun, as he was unearthed in the ruins of a central Port-au-Prince restaurant a year after the earthquake.

That bodies are still being found in rubble is a sign of how far Haiti has to go to recover from a disaster that left the capital in ruins and is estimated to have killed more than 230 000 people.

As the dust was still settling from the January 12 2010, disaster, volunteers and hundreds of aid groups flocked in with food, water and first aid that saved countless lives.

But the effort to rebuild has been dwarfed by the size of the tragedy, the extent of the need and, perhaps most fatally, the lack of leadership and coordination of more than 10 000 disorganised non-governmental organisations.

The international community "has not done enough to support good governance and effective leadership in Haiti", the aid group Oxfam said in a recent report. "Aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistance, while donors are not coordinating their actions or adequately consulting the Haitian people."

Less than 5% of debris has been cleared, leaving enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world. In the broken building where the man was found, workers hired to clear rubble by hand found two other people's remains.

Cholera epidemic


Meanwhile, about a million people remain homeless and neighbourhood-sized homeless camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital. A cholera epidemic erupted outside the earthquake zone that has killed more than 3 600 people, and an electoral crisis threatens to break an increasingly fragile political stability.

The promise of a better Haiti remains just that.

"The problem is that at a certain point the international community gave the impression they could solve the problem quickly. ... I think there was an excess of optimism," said Ericq Pierre, Haiti's representative to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.

Progress has been slow across the board, starting with the omnipresent rubble.

The US-based Rand organisation said donors and the Haitian government are responsible for more not being cleared. Haitian workers are not given personal equipment while heavy lifters have been blocked by customs officials at the border, the report said. The government has also not designated sufficient dumping space.

"Unless rubble is cleared expeditiously, hundreds of thousands of Haitians will still be in tent camps during the 2011 hurricane season" - which runs from June through November, the report said.

Land complications

It does not help that the fees collected by customs officials - such as those blocking the large rubble-removing equipment - are one of the few bright spots in a Haitian economy that was already the worst in the hemisphere before contracting by 7% over 2010, according to the World Bank.

With nowhere to build, construction of new housing has barely begun. Even Oxfam said earlier this year it would be too complicated to address the key underlying issue of sorting out Haiti's broken system of land ownership, where several people will hold seemingly equal claims to the same plot of land.

Internationally financed inspectors have certified houses where people can return, but indications are that few have - at best many of those leaving the sprawling camps are merely moving their shacks closer to where they used to live.

Meanwhile, only 15% of needed temporary shelters have been built, with few permanent water and sanitation facilities.

The owners of small construction materials businesses like Justin Premier, aged 43, should be raking in money. But most people in his neighbourhood are just buying plywood to reinforce their tarps.

"It's going to take a lot of time for us to come back where we were before," Premier said.

Slow aid

The earthquake was an opportunity to completely remake a broken education system where only half of school-age children were enrolled, mostly in bad private schools that often charge predatory fees.

Plans from the Inter-American Development Bank for safer buildings and a unified Creole-language curriculum have not yet come to fruition.

Instead, schools have opened here and there. About 80% of children attending school before the quake are going to class again, said Unicef Haiti Education Chief Nathalie-Fiona Hamoudi. Unicef planned to build 200 semi-permanent structures to teach in, but only finished 88 by the end of 2010 because an ongoing cholera outbreak diverted its effort.

The reconstruction effort overall is hampered by the failure to deliver or spend billions of expected dollars in aid.

Americans donated more than $1.4bn to help earthquake survivors and rebuild, but just 38% of that total has been spent to provide recovery and rebuilding aid, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organisations.

Governments have not done better.

Clinton's role


More than $5.3bn was pledged at a March 31 donors conference for a period of 18 months. Only $824m - about a quarter of the public money not including debt relief - has been delivered, according to former US President Bill Clinton's UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti. About $3.2bn in public funding is still owed.

The United States had originally pledged $1.15bn for 2010, but moved nearly its entire pledge to 2011 following delays in Congress and the Obama administration.

Clinton was supposed to take care of the governments. In July he said he would contact donors the following week to remind them of their promises, and again expressed frustration when payment was slow through the summer and fall.

But as the year came to an end, even the United States - whose secretary of state is his wife, Hillary Clinton - had paid just a fraction of what it promised, pushing off nearly $1bn in money pledged for 2010 to 2011.

Bill Clinton has had three prominent, simultaneous roles in Haiti's rebuilding: Co-chair of the reconstruction commission with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive; UN special envoy for Haiti; and head of his Clinton Foundation, a major donor. But on his recent trips to Haiti he has been left merely expressing frustration that more is not getting done.

Bellerive said he is disappointed by the slow delivery of funds. He said the delays may be caused by uncertainty surrounding the question of who will succeed outgoing President Rene Preval.

"Perhaps some donors say, 'Let's wait until we know exactly who will be there for the next five years'," he said.

Ineffective Preval


Preval's government, weak to begin with, was decimated and never really recovered. Ministries were relocated but were not able to replace vast numbers of staff killed in the quake or the material lost in the destruction.

Preval has been seen by most Haitians as ineffective at best, and many observers have criticised him for being responsible for a lack of leadership within Haiti.

"Everyone is talking about the resilience of the Haitian people, and everyone is taking advantage of that resilience," Bellerive said. "It's going to end. Success for me is to do the basic, the minimum, so we can really build a future. And we have to do it right now."

As the Wednesday anniversary arrives, Haitians will remember that day of sorrow with a Mass in front of the destroyed cathedral, still in ruins.

In an Op-Ed to Haiti's Le Nouvelliste newspaper, Pierre asked that on the anniversary itself, foreigners leave Haitians alone.

"I ask only one day per year, from 2011 on, to enable us to mourn our dead ... to try to understand how and why we got where we are," he wrote. "We need to find some peace."

- AP
Read more on:    rene preval  |  bill clinton  |  hilary clinton  |  natural disasters  |  haiti quake  |  earthquakes
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