International community must help people of Haiti build a better future

Wed, Jan 12, 2011, 00:00

ANALYSIS:In the year since disaster struck there have been notable aid achievements – but huge obstacles remain, writes TOM ARNOLD

TODAY MARKS the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, killing 230,000 people and leaving 1.3 million homeless. At 4pm local time on January 12th, 2010, the capital Port-au-Prince began to shake.

Though it lasted barely a minute, the impact will be felt for decades. Over a quarter of a million buildings collapsed, including the presidential palace, government buildings, churches, businesses and homes. When I visited in the days following the quake, it was beyond anything I had seen or could have imagined.

Even prior to January 12th, 2010, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world. Around 70 per cent of the population of 9.7 million lived on less than $2 per day. Access to essential services like clean water, healthcare and sanitation facilities was extremely limited. Violence and insecurity were widespread. And then the earthquake struck. Like most natural disasters, it hit the poorest hardest.

In the aftermath of this terrible catastrophe, the government of Haiti, the international community, aid agencies and local people have had some notable achievements. More than 1.3 million homeless people receive ongoing support in the form of shelter, clean water, sanitation facilities, food and healthcare. But the stark reality, and the major challenge, is that more than a million people still live in tents and makeshift shelters.

Aid agencies report they have spent about half the money they have raised. Concern has spent around €18 million in response to the earthquake, 55 per cent of the money we raised, helping 130,000 people. It is important that agencies such as Concern respond quickly, but also that they ensure money is spent wisely and to help those who need it most.

Notwithstanding the progress made, huge obstacles still exist. Rubble is still piled in the streets, causing logistical difficulties and preventing reconstruction. Land issues need to be resolved, but the Land Registry Office was destroyed in the earthquake, many of its staff killed and its records buried under rubble.

Cholera continues to be a huge problem with over 100,000 cases and 3,000 deaths already reported: these numbers will rise over the coming months. Violence and insecurity are preventing people from accessing essential support.

In order for Haiti to recover certain things must happen. The international community must continue to play its part. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, set-up by President René Préval of Haiti in April and co-chaired by Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former US president Bill Clinton, is charged with planning and reviewing projects funded by bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs and the private sector.

The commission is guided by a board which includes Haitian and non-Haitians involved in the reconstruction efforts.

International donors, both governments and multilateral institutions, must honour their funding commitments. A donor conference in March 2010 pledged $9.9 billion (€7.6 billion) in aid, with over half earmarked for spending in 2010 and 2011. Yet only approximately 10 per cent of this has been delivered so far. The Irish Government pledged €13 million to Haiti between 2010 and 2012, and has delivered €8.6 million, predominantly through NGOs and UN agencies. For that, it must be applauded. The UN, as well as providing funding, must continue to co-ordinate the efforts of NGOs on the ground. The private sector and philanthropy have an important role to play, in rubble clearance, rebuilding infrastructure and stimulating enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Most importantly, the reconstruction effort and the future of Haiti must be led by the Haitian government and the people. The government lost many key staff and resources during the earthquake: a quarter of Haiti’s civil servants were killed. The ministries of finance, education, public works and the Supreme Court building, among others, were damaged.

Elections were held in November, but the results have been disputed, leading to protests and violence. The resulting insecurity has hampered efforts to bring stability. It is important that a new government is elected and that the government and civil society are supported to lead in the reconstruction of Haiti.

The international community must support the government to exercise this leadership in a way that is accountable to Haiti’s people. NGOs such as Concern must ensure that their programmes work with local authorities and civil society, and can ultimately be part of a national, government-led recovery plan.

Most of all, we must remain positive. The people of Haiti have shown remarkable resilience in the face of successive crises, and yet have still not given up hope. In spite of the obvious challenges, we must do likewise if we are to help them build a better future for their country.


Tom Arnold is chief executive of Concern Worldwide and a governor of The Irish Times Trust

PHOTO EXHIBITION

AN exhibition of photos on Haiti opened yesterday at Irish Aid volunteer centre, O’Connell Street, Dublin. The exhibition runs until Monday, January 31st, 2011 from: 9am to 5pm.

The photographs were taken in Haiti last October by Julien Behal, Alan Betson, Mark Condren, George Doyle, Valerie OSullivan, Barry Murphy, and Jerry Kennelly.