World leaders and officials in Haiti have made little progress on critical reconstruction projects there, nearly one year after a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left another million homeless, a leading international charity said on Thursday.
“The humanitarian response that has taken place over the past 12 months has saved countless lives by providing water, sanitation, shelter, food aid, and other vital assistance to millions of people,” the charity, Oxfam International, said in a report. “Yet, as Haiti approaches the first anniversary of the earthquake, neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction.”
The report found that dysfunctional governance, legal hurdles and a lack of long-term strategic planning on the part of Haitian officials has hobbled the recovery effort and delayed basic reconstruction projects. A mere five percent of the rubble from the earthquake has been cleared, Oxfam officials said, and only 15 percent of the necessary housing has been built. Nearly a million Haitians remain in poorly constructed tent cities or scattered among the ruins, leaving them vulnerable to weather and disease.
“This has been a year of indecision and it has put Haiti’s recovery on hold,” Roland Van Hauwermeiren, country director for Oxfam in Haiti, said in a statement. “Rebuilding this shattered country will not happen overnight, but there are key decisions on jobs, clearing rubble, house repairs and allocating land for people who will not be able to return to their homes that can and must be made urgently.”
The report was also sharply critical of international donors and, specifically, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Oxfam officials, citing United Nations figures, noted that less than half of the reconstruction aid promised by international donors has been disbursed. And while some of that money has been put toward temporary housing, almost none of the funds have been used for rubble removal.
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“So far, the Commission has failed to live up to its mandate,” the report said of the IHRC. “Many Haitian officials still do not have the technical ability to lead projects, and almost no major reconstruction projects have started. The Commission is a key element for reconstruction and it must cut through the quagmire of indecision and delay.”
As a solution, Oxfam officials suggested the IHRC fix communication problems and improve coordination with Haitian officials on immediate reconstruction needs and long-term planning. In December, a dozen Haitian members of the IHRC sent a letter to Clinton and Bellerive complaining that they had been left out of the decision-making process. “The twelve Haitian members present here feel completely disconnected from the activities of the IHRC,” the letter said.
The report also accused aid agencies of failing to listen to the needs of the Haitian people: An Oxfam poll found that only 17.5 percent of the Haitians surveyed supported the goals contained within the official Action Plan of the IHRC. “The voices of poor Haitians are seldom heard in the policy-making process that directly affects their lives,” the report said.
International officials involved in the reconstruction process acknowledge that the Haitian government has struggled to rebuild its capacity to deliver services. In an interview with Need to Know last year, Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez, who has helped lead the recovery effort and held a World Summit on the Future of Haiti in Santo Domingo, acknowledged that the rebuilding was behind schedule and urged international donors to deliver the aid they had promised for reconstruction more quickly.
“The U.S. government should look at this with a sense of urgency, and try to speed up the process of disbursement of the funds that is needed at this moment,” Fernandez said. “What we would like to see is the beginning of the construction of these projects, so at least there would be hope — even though they’re still homeless — there is hope that, in the near future, this problem is going to be solved.”