Below are excerpts from the executive summary of Haiti at a crossroads, a report issued earlier this week by the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Five months after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, leading to the deaths of approximately 230,000 people and the displacement of millions . . . Haiti is at a significant crossroads, with limited time to enact key policies and programs that will allow the country to build a more sustainable and prosperous future. As the sense of immediate crisis has subsided, so has the sense of urgency to undertake bold action-the “reimagination” of Haiti hoped for months ago — and the commitment to prevent a return to the dysfunctional, unsustainable ways of life past.
The donor community, working with a devastated and often overwhelmed government, has done a remarkable job in the relief phase, forestalling potentially disastrous humanitarian consequences, and providing consistent access to food, water, medical supplies, shelter and other basic services.
The U.S. government response in particular has contributed to the overall success of international humanitarian efforts — it is important to acknowledge the tremendous time, effort, and energy expended getting people into safer conditions in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
However, the reconstruction remains uncertain. Rubble is still strewn all over the streets, the majority of buildings are damaged if not collapsed, and informal tent settlements — in penurious conditions — have sprouted everywhere. Emblematic of the stalled rebuilding effort is the Presidential Palace, which remains conspicuously in ruins, without any signs of scaffolding or construction.
Plans for moving the displaced population out of tent cities and into more durable shelter, not to mention permanent housing, remain in early draft form. This is particularly alarming given the onset of the hurricane season. Even a modest hurricane could kill many thousands. The current rainy season also threatens lives by increasing the spread of communicable diseases, particularly in the squalor of the camps.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti faced significant developmental challenges. Fewer than 30 percent of Haitians had access to electricity, with roughly half of users tapping into the national grid illegally. There were longstanding problems with garbage and solid waste removal. Clogged canals presented serious and recurring risks of flooding. As one official noted, it is hard to separate what is due to the poverty levels that predated the earthquake and what is due to the earthquake itself, in a country where approximately 80 percent of the country lived on less than $2 a day, even before the earthquake.
The enormous difficulties that confronted Haiti for decades have only been compounded by the devastation of the earthquake, adding urgency to the critical issues that have the potential to derail the effort to rebuild the country if they are not adequately addressed in the coming weeks.
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