Relief and Reconstruction: The Year in Review, Part II

January 12, 2011

Various journalists who have covered Haiti over the past year have published essays today with their thoughts, reflections, sentiments, and recollections. Notable among them is this one from the AP’s Jonathan Katz, who writes:

What is most distinct about this Jan. 12 — from the last and from all Haiti’s 206 previous Jan. 12s — is that this one was supposed to be different.

If you live in basically any of the world’s major economies, and a lot of minor ones, chances are that your government made a promise of money, commitment, speed, coordination and intent — not just to rebuild what was here before, but to help make it better.

But most of the money promised was not delivered, and most of the money delivered was not spent.

The underlying issues, the core problems that keep Haiti like this — poor governance, lack of institutions, lack of national leadership unimpeded by interference from abroad, a lack of even the most basic governing systems like tax collection, land registries or a census — were barely addressed, if at all.

On this Jan. 12, the aid groups and NGOs are flying in their bosses to tout very limited successes and ask for money to do it over again.

Elsewhere, articles in The Nation from Isabel MacDonald, and Isabeau Doucet assess the state of relief and reconstruction one-year later. Doucet writes:

On the tragedy’s one-year anniversary, it’s become clear that perhaps the only positive aspect of the past 12 months has been the exposure of the failures of the NGO aid system, and the international community’s long-standing use of the country as a laboratory for cashing in on disaster – both of which have been wrecking havoc on this country since long before the earthquake.

Despite being home to the world’s highest density of NGOs per capita, Haiti is presently being ravaged by a cholera epidemic with an official death toll of some 3,500, with experts estimating the number of dead at twice as high.

More than a million people are still living in overcrowded camps under the same now-frayed tarps they received last January. A third of these camps still don’t have toilets, and most Haitians have no access to potable water.

Doucet also describes the tensions and Haitian discontent within the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission:

The twelve Haitian members of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission – a 26-member body that decides where to spend money donated to Haiti’s reconstruction – presented a letter of protest to co-chairman Bill Clinton at the commission’s most recent meeting on December 14th.

They complain of being “completely disconnected from the activities of the IHRC,” given no background information on the projects they are supposed to fund, given “time neither to read, nor analyze, nor understand – and much less respond intelligently – to projects submitted“ the day before they’re voted on. There is no follow up on previously approved millions in funds; they “don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

These twelve board members surmised that their only function is to rubber stamp, as Haitian-approved, decisions already made by the executive committee – Bill Clinton, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, and long-time U.S. State Department employee at USAID as well as a U.S. informant inside President René Préval’s inner circle Gabriel Verret.

MacDonald’s article focuses more specifically on what has happened with the aid money, noting, for example, that:

Of the European Community’s pledge of $294 million for 2010-11, it had paid $97.2 million, or about a third, by December 2010. Canada, which was originally reported to have pledged $375 million for Haiti’s reconstruction, had disbursed only $55.3 million by December 2010. Meanwhile, France has delivered less than a quarter of the $30 million it pledged to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, according to the fund’s website.

She also questioned large NGO’s that have placed donations for Haiti relief in interest-bearing accounts what they intend to do with the interest earned:

for now, [ARC spokesperson Julie] Sell says the remaining millions are being kept in “short-term, conservative government-backed investments. Any interest generated will be spent on Haiti,” she added.

Similarly, World Vision (which reports spending $107 million of the $194 million it raised through appeals to help Haitian earthquake survivors) is keeping unspent millions of Haiti donations in “low-risk investment accounts,” according to spokesperson Amy Parodi. She told The Nation that the organization plans to “re-invest” any interest accrued into World Vision’s Haiti response program.

Writing for Alternet, the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) in Haiti’s Beatrice Lindstrom provides an overview of water insecurity in Haiti:

Over 40 percent of IDP camps surveyed in October did not have any water supply at all.

Where agencies do supply water, it is generally untreated even though quality is a grave problem — Haiti’s water has previously been rated the worst in the world. To camp residents, waterborne diseases are nothing new — they regularly report suffering from skin rashes and diarrhea from the consumption of contaminated water. Drinking dirty water is not the result of a lack of education but a lack of alternatives; 39 percent of respondents in a study conducted by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in July reported that they drank from tanks and cisterns even though they feared it was contaminated because they have no other options.

To access potable water in Kasim, the residents have to dart through busy traffic to purchase it at a store across the major street that runs outside the camp. This situation is replicated widely — 50 percent of the families surveyed by IJDH had to purchase potable water every day. With 80% of the population living on less than $2 per day, finding money to buy water is a daily struggle. As a result of this, IJDH found that 44 percent of the families surveyed lacked access to potable water.

Lindstrom also writes about some crucial history regarding Haiti’s inadequate potable water, including the U.S.’ blocking of IDB loans that had been designated for that purpose.

Anthropologist Mark Schuller writes about (scant) progress on sanitation in an article for The Huffington Post:

This summer I conducted a study of a random sample of over 100 camps, one in eight of those in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Of this sample, as of August, 30 percent of camps lacked a toilet, and 40 percent lacked water provision.

How much progress has been made since the cholera epidemic, and the $173 million U.N. flash appeal?

In short: almost none.

Last week a group of State University of Haiti students followed up on 45 camps that lacked one or the other essential service to prevent cholera. Only 4 additional camps have water or toilets: 26 instead of 30 percent of camps still don’t have toilets, and 37 instead of 40 percent of camps don’t have water. Eight camps closed because of the lack of services. Still another three closed because land owners — all three of them churches — forced people off their land. In all, one in four camps has since closed, and this does not account for other camps that did provide both water and toilets.

Water is a more serious concern: donors have cut off emergency water rations at the end of 2010 in at least four camps studied. The last water distribution for Cité Soleil camps Tapis Vert (20,000 people) and Camp Nielo (763 people) was December 31. “This doesn’t make sense. We’re in a crisis!” said a WASH cluster employee. “To turn the spigot off while we’re in the middle of a cholera epidemic is tantamount to genocide.”

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