Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti’s next disaster

Miami Herald Editorial

OUR OPINION: Displaced Haitians desperately need better shelter

When former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush make their first joint visit to Haiti this week, they will find another major disaster in the making.

More than two months after the massive earthquake that claimed at least 230,000 lives, U.N. experts say that some 1.3 million people are still living a perilous existence in makeshift camps as the season of torrential rains fast approaches.

The camps are stark evidence that despite the best efforts of disaster relief agencies and the international community, Haiti remains in a state of near-collapse and desperately in need of leadership on the ground.

The government last week issued a useful plan for long-term recovery, which contained many good elements but was sorely lacking in crucial aspects. President René Préval’s vision of a Multi-Donor Trust Fund and an Interim Agency for Reconstruction and Development that decides on priorities and allocates funding is a good idea, but it will not work unless Mr. Préval institutes measures to dampen Haiti’s chronic corruption. That should be his legacy at this historic moment.

Most international aid to Haiti, before and after the quake, has gone directly to nongovernment organizations, which is why NGOs are drawn to Haiti like flies to honey. Mr. Préval has pleaded for direct aid to the government, but he won’t persuade donors unless he takes steps to win their confidence. A new Haiti cannot be built on a corrupt foundation.

The appointment of an anti-corruption czar, preferably a respected Haitian figure with strong ties to the international community, would allay these concerns.

The report’s most serious omission was a sense of urgency over the immediate need to resettle Haiti’s displaced poor.

The devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of camps are located, is ground zero for the crisis of the homeless. Refugees in overcrowded shelters live in conditions of utter squalor, surrounded by piles of trash in mosquito-infested camps where the air is thick with the odor from overflowing latrines, and drainage lines are clogged with sewage.

Security is a problem. So is hygiene.

The flimsy tents and tarps in these camps will be no match for the coming storms, which is why an all-out effort must be made to relocate as many of the displaced as possible, particularly children, before it’s too late.

The focus should be on the 29 of 425 sites in and around the capital, with about 200,000 homeless, that U.N. officials say are the most vulnerable to flooding and have been targeted for resettlement. The government’s chief advisor on relocation, Gerard-Emile “Aby” Brun, says it will take $86 million to build relocation sites and another $40 million to secure rights to the land.

At this stage, money should not be the problem. More than $1 billion in aid has flowed into Haiti, and more is coming.

Nor is there a lack of suitable land. At least five sites have been deemed potential resettlement terrain by U.N. officials and other experts, but closed-door negotiations with the landowners have been slow — too slow to avert the impending disaster.

This is where former Presidents Bush and Clinton can make a difference, by cutting through the red tape and coordinating the massive transfer of the at-risk displaced population quickly.

Last month, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who has said moving people from the camps is his priority, declared that the government was prepared to seize private property to build camps and would compensate landowners later. Such a drastic step would require international monitoring to ensure that land is not taken without valid need and that money for compensation is available.

Leasing the land for a fair price is another reasonable alternative that must be considered — as long as it happens quickly.

The Haitian government and international lending organizations must get on with the job. As of last week, not a single person had been relocated.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush should make this the priority. Haiti is in a desperate race against time.

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