Haiti recovery progress ‘disappointing’ two years after earthquake: Ottawa

A Haitian man walks by a tent city on January 10, 2012, near Port-au-Prince, a year after the January 12, 2011 earthquake.
Andy Blatchford The Canadian PressMONTREAL—The Canadian government is expressing disappointment over Haiti’s plodding reconstruction two years after a powerful earthquake slammed the fragile island nation.

But that doesn’t mean the Caribbean country hasn’t shown signs of progress amid the debris, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda added before she left for Haiti ahead of the second anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 temblor.

The 7.0-magnitude quake killed more than 200,000 people, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless.

“Generally, I think we’re all disappointed at the rate of progress, that we had expectations (that) have not been met,” Oda said in a recent interview.

“(We’re) disappointed that so many situations have caused delay. Would I have liked to have seen more progress two years later? Absolutely, yes.”

Oda blamed much of Haiti’s hobbled reconstruction on hurdles that surfaced after the quake, including a paralyzing, months-long political crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic that had struck 520,000 people and killed 7,000 by mid-December.

One example of the slower progress, she said, are the tarps and rickety shelters in numerous displacement camps that popped up in areas hit hardest by the quake, including the capital Port-au-Prince.

Oda had hoped that conditions would have improved enough to enable more homeless Haitians to vacate those tent camps by now.

Today, some 500,000 people still live in the squalor and dangers of the encampments — a figure that does represent some improvement. One million were living in tents last year, on the first anniversary of the earthquake.

With the help of billions of dollars in international aid, the country has taken modest strides forward over the last 24 months.

About half the rubble from the disaster — a mind-boggling five million cubic metres, or enough to fill five football stadiums — has been removed. Twenty per cent of it has been recycled, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

UNDP associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan said the massive cleanup was a big part of some 300,000 temporary jobs created in Haiti, where the unemployment rate hovers around 60 per cent.

She called it the “largest job-creation program in the world.” The organization is now focusing on creating longer-term employment.

Canada has committed more than $1 billion to Haiti through its regular foreign development initiatives, one-third of which had already been promised before the earthquake. The final total includes Ottawa’s $220-million pledge to match the private donations from ordinary Canadians after the disaster.

Only Afghanistan ($214 million) received more Canadian International Development Agency funding than Haiti ($209 million) for long-term development and reconstruction during the 2010-2011 fiscal period.

“I think that we have to recognize that there has been progress and some key progress has been made,” Oda said.

But a Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ottawa should use more of its clout to combat endemic corruption within Haiti’s political system.

“I think that Canada could, in concert with the U.S. and other donors, take a harder stance and tougher wake-up call positions to the government of Haiti,” the influential official said.

“I think that we pander to them a little bit more than we have to.”

Instead of creating sustainability and economic development in Haiti, the source said the international community continues to foster dependency.

The official credited Canada for undertaking projects in good faith, such as building a new hospital, improving road infrastructure, training police and providing hundreds of thousands of meals to kids every day.

“The problem is just the Haitian context makes it extremely challenging to see progress in a really tangible way or very quickly,” said the official, who believes Canadian donations are still making a difference.

“For that, I think people just need to be patient.”

But one area where CIDA should reassess efforts is within its “capacity-building” programs, designed to strengthen Haiti’s government departments, he said.

The weak Haitian state remains just too corrupt, the key official added.

“There are some good people right at the top, but once you skim the surface of the Haitian public service there is no one below it, there’s no direction, there’s no capacity to build,” said the source, who suggested that more funding be redirected to address basic human needs.

The official asked how, with hundreds of millions of dollars pouring in from around the world, most Haitians still don’t have easy access to clean drinking water or dehydration salts, for those suffering from cholera.

For her part, Oda said shoring up Haiti’s government ministries, by introducing tools like budget procedures, will help address corruption concerns.

CIDA, she said, already has one of the most rigorous processes of any similar development agency to ensure money is actually being spent where it’s supposed to be.

It has also managed to get more money out the door, more quickly, than some of its peers, Oda said. To date, the UNDP says $3.5 billion of $5 billion in international pledges has been disbursed.

Oda said Canada has already transferred around 90 per cent of its pledged funds, giving it one of the best disbursement rates of any donor. By comparison, the U.S. had only disbursed around 58 per cent of its pledge by December, according to the UN.

During her visit to Haiti this week, Oda has planned a series of meetings with President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Garry Conille and ministers of Haiti’s new government.

She is scheduled to hold a joint news conference Wednesday with Martelly, a popular musician known as “Sweet Micky” who came to power in May following months of political chaos created by election fraud.

Conille took office last fall following five months of political deadlock in the Senate, after lawmakers rejected Martelly’s two previous nominees for prime minister.

The absence of a fully functioning government had hindered Martelly’s ability to govern — a delay that also slowed post-quake reconstruction.

“We now have to look forward on a going-forward basis and say, ‘We have a new president, new prime minister, new government and the Haitian government has indicated that they want to take on more of the responsibility of reconstruction themselves,’” Oda said.


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