Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti suffers as rebuild stalls

The Star Editorial

Six months ago today, much of Haiti looked like the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The sight of dazed, bloodied survivors stumbling over the ruins of their earthquake-shattered homes shocked people all over the world. And in the weeks that followed, countries and citizens opened their hearts and wallets to Haitians.

So why, half a year later, are stories of deprivation, dislocation and disease still in the headlines? And why is the much-heralded reconstruction of the country stalled in first gear?

In spite of a massive, often inspiring relief effort, the tiny country of 9.6 million people is still awash in rubble, untreated sewage, garbage and despair after the quake killed about 230,000 people and left millions more homeless. Many of the survivors are in camps that resemble war zones, as weather bureaus warn that this may be the wettest storm season on record.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says one explanation is a slowdown in funding. Forty per cent of the short-term money donors pledged — some $5.3 billion — has not arrived, including $400 million from the Canadian government. Without it, Haitian President Rene Preval says, urgently needed rebuilding projects can’t go ahead.

But there are more complex, and vexing, reasons for Haiti’s prolonged misery.

First is the lack of coordination of reconstruction plans by international aid agencies and the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission that is in charge of priorities and planning. With its decision-making powers still in dispute, the most basic decisions on land ownership and resettlement policies are in the balance.

Meanwhile, some of the most populated areas of Haiti are paralyzed under the enormous weight of wreckage from the earthquake — debris some estimates say could take at least 20 years to shift. After a brisk start under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, debris removal has bogged down in a flurry of uncoordinated work projects.

That makes it more likely that Haiti’s tent cities will continue throughout the rainy season and longer, at the mercy of the hurricanes that have wreaked havoc in the past. Even without bad weather, their residents are in a Catch-22 situation, living in poor conditions that cannot be upgraded because the housing is temporary, and on land loaned out by owners who do not want them to become a permanent reality.

The Haitian government itself is in difficulties, weakened by the disaster and the mistrust of many citizens. Its inertia in the early weeks after the earthquake convinced many Haitians that they must make their own survival plans. Now it is hard-pressed to regain trust and facing a November election whose democratic credentials are already being questioned.

Six months after Haiti’s worst disaster in recent memory, the country is once again at a crossroads. Whether it will emerge stronger or sink back into the morass of its tragic history depends on the political will of both Haiti’s government and the international community, as well as the remarkable spirit of the Haitian people.

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