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Amid Robust Recovery Efforts, Haiti Still Has Vast Needs

January 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Two years after Haiti's devastating earthquake, politicians are still promising change and rebirth. For an assessment of the progress, delays and remaining challenges in Haiti's recovery, Jeffrey Brown talks with Nan Buzard of the American Red Cross and Dominique Toussaint of Mobilize for Haiti.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we update the situation now with Nan Buzard, senior director of international response and programs for the American Red Cross, and Dominique Toussaint with Mobilize for Haiti, a grassroots organization seeking better housing and an emergency alert system in Haiti.

Welcome to both of you.

NAN BUZARD, American Red Cross: Thank you.

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT, Mobilize for Haiti: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Dominique Toussaint, two years later, what is your overall assessment of where things stand?

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT: Well, for us, for the Haitian-American community, for Haitians in Haiti, Jan. 12 is just like yesterday.

It’s our Katrina moment, except we wake up with it every day. It’s been more than 730 days since the earthquake. We still have about 600,000 people who are still residing in IDP camps without proper homes. That number is down from about 1.5 million, but about a million people kind of left the camps because the situations were dire there.

They didn’t necessarily find permanent housing, but they did leave the camp. So you have Haitians who are sleeping on porches, who are sleeping, you know, wherever they can find. So it’s still very present for us.

JEFFREY BROWN: Nan Buzard, I was there last year for the one-year anniversary for the NewsHour. And most of the aid was still necessarily going to emergency needs in the camps, as far as I could see, for food and water.

Is that still the case?

NAN BUZARD: There is still work that is going on in the camps. As Dominique has said that a lot of people have moved out of the camps, some more successfully than others.

But there is still work being done in the camps, though for the most part the government is really encouraging not only people to leave — sometimes, they don’t have a place to go — but they don’t want support in the camps. So we continue to transition over the water support.

We still have some health clinics. There is work that needs to be done. One of the main things we’re concerned about is — it’s not very sexy — but de-sludging of the latrines that have been built. There’s no way to remove the waste, unless we bring trucks in and take it out.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you’re still spending most of your efforts in these what are called emergency efforts, as opposed to the kind of longer-term rebuilding?

NAN BUZARD: Not really. It’s a mix.

JEFFREY BROWN: A mix.

NAN BUZARD: We keep our eye on the emergency, because it has to — cholera was an emergency.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course.

NAN BUZARD: And we had to quickly turn on a dime and support that.

But we also have focused in the past year on recovery efforts, primarily in shelter.

JEFFREY BROWN: How much, Dominique Toussaint, have the land disputes continued to hold back rebuilding and resettlement?

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT: Well, land has been an issue that’s been brought up many, many times, mostly by large international NGOs that don’t have a real understanding of how to navigate the situation in Haiti.

There’s a national government in Haiti, there’s a centralized government, and then there are the local governments that have direct access to land and oversee some of that stuff.

But what has happened is, NGOs would do outreach and try to get massive, you know, amounts of land, and not be able to execute on providing housing. So, if a mayor in an area makes land available, and you tell them that you’ll build on it and you don’t build, then it will be more difficult for you to come back and ask for more land at that point.

So, that’s been an issue that we’ve offered specifically to the Red Cross some assistance. We’ve offered to reach out to local partners and other small grassroots groups, farmers associations that can assist there. But we’ve not received any positive feedback from ARC specifically on that particular point.

RAY SUAREZ: What’s your experience been of the NGOs? And, of course, there was a period of a vacuum in political power and volatility and then a new president. And what’s your assessment of the sort of how the politics is working now for the rebuilding?

NAN BUZARD: Well, I think you ask any country how the politics are working and you’re going to get different perspectives, including this country.

But we think it’s gotten better. Our relationships not only with the national authorities, but with local authorities, continues to increase and stabilize. So we have been able to access some land, but it is slow-going. One of the particular concerns that we have is making sure that, when land is made available, not only is there clear title, so that you move someone on, and then you don’t, a year later, that land gets taken away, but there’s livelihoods, that there’s education capacity, that there’s health support.

There has been land made available from different individuals, as well as the government, quite removed from any of those kinds of support services. That’s not tenable for people.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your sense of the politics right now and how it’s helping or hindering?

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT: I would say the new administration seems to have its heart in the right place.

In terms of land specifically, they have expressed that they would want to declare eminent domain in certain areas to allow for construction. You know, we’ve seen that they have been quite responsive to some of the community needs of people in the tent cities.

But at the same time, they’re facing challenges, like not having direct funds, for example, to build homes. So they have to rely on groups that collected a lot of money after the earthquake to do that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so when we talk about money, I mean, we know that certainly not all the aid that was promised has made its way there. The money that has, is it your sense that it’s been — how has it been spent and has it been spent well?

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT: You know, there are three ways of kind of looking at what happened in Haiti. So there is the immediate disaster, where you’re dealing with the emergency phase.

And then there’s a transition period that should have started. And then there’s the permanent phase, where we feel that we still are operating in the emergency phase even two years after the earthquake, where we should already have made certain transitions and be more moving towards permanent solutions in Haiti.

So, in terms of housing, there is little being done in terms of building permanent homes. We’re not saying that the same applies to shelter. Okay? Transitional shelter to some extent has happened. It’s not been sufficient. However, they have — NGOs have built some transitional shelter.

But we’ve not been able to get numbers, firm numbers for permanent housing units built there. The other concern that we have is what the standards of the units that are being built — not only do we ask for permanent units, but also units that are also sustainable, meaning that you provide someone a home with some access to running water, access to electricity to the extent possible, and so on and so on.

JEFFREY BROWN: I wonder, as you hear of many of the same issues two years later, is there a sense of donor fatigue, perhaps, or lack of interest that you — or less interest from the world and from donors?

NAN BUZARD: I do think that’s true. Just looking over the anniversary, the kind of coverage, it’s not certainly like it was a year ago, even just two years later.

But I think, for those — at least the Red Cross, who received a large amount of funding, both the American Red Cross and the Red Cross at large, our eye is on Haiti, our people are there, and we continue to work. But I do think that it’s a rapidly changing world. And attention spans move. And other issues come up.

And I think that importance of the donor pledges — and I primarily mean the donor government pledges — needs to be followed, because that is very important. And that’s the lion’s share of the funds.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Nan Buzard and Dominique Toussaint, thank you both very much.

DOMINIQUE TOUSSAINT: Thank you.

NAN BUZARD: Thank you, sir.