It is now just under a year ago since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12th 2010, killing over 220,000 people and leaving more than a million homeless. Described as the deadliest natural disaster in recent years, the quake also caused an estimated 8 to 14 billion dollars in damage. Despite an outpouring of aid from charities around the world and offers of financial assistance from many governments, a new report from UK-based Oxfam has criticised the progress made in Haiti during the last twelve months.
The report points out that around one million people are still displaced and only 15 per cent of the temporary housing needed has been built. Progress towards rebuilding is severely hampered by the fact that less than 5 per cent of the rubble from the earthquake has been removed. The authors also note that “relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed”. Part of the problem lies in the fact that over half of the 2.1 billion dollars pledged by the international community has yet to be disbursed. More crucially, however, the report identifies a lack of leadership as the main reason for the slow progress.
An Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) was set up to oversee reconstruction. This body is chaired by Bill Clinton, the United Nation’s special envoy to the country and the current Haitian President, Rene Preval. But according to the report, the IHRC has met only a few times and is accused of operating “contradictory policies and priorities”. Oxfam calls for the IHRC to “cut through the quagmire of indecision and delay” and do more when it comes to consulting and communicating with the citizens of Haiti.
Published last week, Oxfam’s criticisms over the progress made in Haiti came out after another report by Amnesty International highlighted the growing level of sexual violence among girls and young women in the camps housing the displaced. Local women’s groups have recorded hundreds of rapes (though actual instances are likely to be much higher) as armed gangs prey on the vulnerable. During a ‘Dispatches’ documentary on Channel 4, Haitian police admitted they were unable to police the camps effectively and were also struggling to recapture hundreds of violent criminals and gang leaders who escaped prison following the earthquake.
As Haiti waits for the second round of its disputed presidential election, now scheduled for February, some experts in the region point to the huge scale of the task facing those trying to rebuild the country. Apart from the devastation caused by the earthquake, the nation has had to deal with a tropical storm in November (Hurricane Tomas) and the outbreak of a severe cholera epidemic. Even before the series of disasters, Haiti was a failed state struggling to stabilise its leadership and government after misrule by dictators and despots for most of its 207-year history. Supporters of the country therefore applaud the notion, first put forward by Bill Clinton, that this desperately poor Caribbean country has the opportunity to “build back better”. But they caution that to do this properly and to create the strong government institutions necessary, will inevitably take time.
See our special on Haiti: One Year On, including how you can become and emergency relief sponsor