Development agencies weigh up massive Haiti challenge

By staff writers
July 11, 2010

Six months after a devastating earthquake rocked the Caribbean nation of Haiti, killing over 200,000 people and displacing a million more, the international development charities Progressio and Christian Aid say that there are no “quick fixes” to overcome the catalogue of development challenges which must be addressed before the country can set itself on the road to recovery and long-term prosperity.

The earthquake damaged or destroyed more than 180,000 homes and nearly 5,000 schools. Bodies are still being recovered from the ruins six months on. Roads were made impassable and government offices and other public buildings reduced to rubble.

More than 1.5 million people still live in makeshift, overcrowded camps with poor sanitation and security, and insufficient food or clean water in the capital Port-au-Prince, in the badly hit regions of Leogane and Jacmel, and in many rural areas, following large-scale movements of people after the 12 January tremor – the worst quake to hit the country in over 200 years.

With the arrival of the hurricane season, many face the additional risk of serious flooding.

Although it is estimated that rebuilding will cost a total of US$11.5 billion and take five to 10 years, a US$1.5 billion United Nations flash appeal launched in the immediate aftermath of the quake is still 40 per cent short of its target. Of $11 billion pledged in New York by donor nations for reconstruction earlier this year, only US$100 million has been delivered.

In addition to addressing the vital and ongoing humanitarian needs – which require immediate attention; including the delivery of food and water to camps, urgent improvements in sanitation for camp dwellers and improved access to medicine – Progressio says the foundations for a new Haiti can only be laid if key barriers to longer term development are tackled. These include:

· Building a strong and engaged civil society that supports the ongoing development and strengthening of a new Haitian state, to ensure it provides for the vast majority of its people.

· Adopting concrete measures to encourage effective political and economic decentralisation away from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, including tackling the many issues around land reform.

· Identifying new ways to stimulate the jobs market and bring down unemployment.

· Creating effective programmes to reduce environmental vulnerability and protect against the impacts of future natural disasters, including reforestation of former woodland zones.

· Seeking new investment, particularly in the agricultural sector, to ensure Haitians are able to grow their own food and feed their population.

· Tackling increased levels of discrimination and violence against women and girls, which have reportedly spiralled since 12 January.

Lizzette Robleto, Progressio’s Advocacy Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “While we are acutely aware of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti, which needs resolving and fast, the next six months must also be about setting the stage for the next chapter in the country’s reconstruction and development."

“It is no easy task. Haiti’s reality is unbelievably complex – this is still the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. It needs targeted support, both from its own people and internationally, to ensure that it is able to build back better," she continued.

“That means not just new houses and new roads, but a new approach to development which serves the vast majority of the Haitian people,” said Robleto.

She added: “We must set the ball rolling – these are big development challenges which could take several generations to effect – but they must be part of the longer-term reconstruction plan and they must be prioritised.”

In the weeks and months following the quake, Progressio staff and development workers played a key role in the Ayuda a Haiti (Help Haiti) platform, working alongside more than a hundred grassroots Haitian, Dominican and international organisations to coordinate local emergency relief efforts from the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.

After 12 January, Progressio development workers were also quickly deployed to locally based partner organisations in Port-au-Prince and the badly hit town of Leogane, where they initially helped to coordinate emergency relief. They have since been working to ensure the views, voices and concerns of local people are heard and acted upon in the ongoing crisis.

Meanwhile, Christian Aid in Haiti is today managing a relief budget of just over £10 million. Partner organisations which it funds have distributed food items such as rice, beans, sardines, oil, maize and yam, as well as hot meals. Medical care has also been provided, including a clinic to treat malnourished children.

Cash handouts have been given to help revive the local economy, water tanks have been built and agricultural tools provided. Work has also gone into raising awareness about waste management, and ensuring that women are not disadvantaged in the reconstruction process.

The top priority now, however, is building safe and robust accommodation for the homeless.

Prospery Raymond, Christian Aid’s Haiti country manager, commented: "Many of the homes that were destroyed were rented and the landlords had no insurance to allow them to rebuild. In many cases they had no documents to even prove that they owned the land."

"So far, relatively few houses have been built and the tents many live in are designed for brief summer holidays rather than as medium or long term shelter. These are already beginning to decay and will not provide adequate protection if a severe tropical storm passes." said Raymond.

"The main challenge now is finding land on which to rebuild in what is in many parts a very cramped urban area. Between them, both the church and the state own much of the prime land in Haiti. We hope that they will consider making some of that available to allow rebuilding to take place."


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