BOGOTA (AlertNet) – Nearly three years after a major earthquake hit Haiti, political stability remains fragile and reconstruction is slow, while public protests and donor fatigue are growing.
On top of that, a cholera epidemic and a series of natural disasters, from drought to hurricanes, have swept the impoverished Caribbean nation.
So far, just over half the $6.04 billion in aid to Haiti pledged by donors from 2010 to 2012 has been disbursed.
Following are AlertNet interviews with experts and aid officials about what donors and the Haitian government need to focus on to help the country get back on its feet and tackle long-standing economic and social problems.
* Channel more aid through Haitian government
“Working in partnership with the Haitian government” and “Haitian-led”, are mantras used by the international aid community. But the partnership between the government and the aid community is an unequal one. The distribution of aid money lies largely in the hands of a dozen or so international aid organisations and the U.S. government, Haiti’s largest aid donor. Too often donors simply bypass the Haitian government.
“Although increasing government capacity and transparency is critical to Haiti’s future, only about 10 percent of the total $6.04 billion currently (being) disbursed has been channelled to the government of Haiti,” a recent report by the U.N. special envoy to Haiti said.
Why is this? It boils down to a lack of trust. The international aid community considers the Haitian government too corrupt and unstable to handle donor aid efficiently.
These concerns are not unfounded. According to Transparency International, Haiti is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. But excluding the government weakens it, makes it even less accountable to its citizens, and has undermined the reconstruction effort.
“The most important thing the government can do is to develop its own vision and to really take control of the different actors on the ground, to improve the efficacy of aid and to efficiently focus the aid effort,” said Simon Ashmore, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Haiti.
* Involve Haitian NGOs and businesses in reconstruction
Haitian companies and the private sector have largely been excluded from the reconstruction effort. From 2010 to 2012, less than 0.6 percent of the aid to Haiti went directly to Haitian organisations and businesses, according to the U.N.
“Bypassing local businesses and markets not only misses opportunities to strengthen them – it can also weaken them. In Haiti, there is evidence that free services provided directly by international organisations after the earthquake, rather than local subsidies, undermined local private service providers,” the report of the U.N.’s special envoy to Haiti said.
* Eradicate cholera
Cholera, a water-borne infectious disease, has killed nearly 8,000 Haitians and made 620,000 ill since the epidemic began in October 2010. Every year since then, when the hurricane and rainy seasons hit Haiti, thousands of new cholera cases are reported and death levels rise.
Experts say cholera will remain a health threat for years to come unless many more people have access to clean drinking water and the water and sanitation systems are improved.
In December, the U.N. launched a $2.2 billion initiative to eradicate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic over the next decade.
* Build more houses
The number of homeless Haitians living in tent cities has fallen by 77 percent from a peak of 1.5 million following the earthquake. But for the 360,000 people still living in makeshift camp settlements scattered in and around the capital Port au Prince, the emergency is far from over.
“Around four percent of the Haitian population is still living under tarpaulin. There’s still not enough construction of new housing going on,” said Johan Peleman, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti.
* Promote decentralisation
Haiti’s highly centralised government, a legacy of the 1956-86 Duvalier dictatorship which focused political power and economic activity on Port-au-Prince, has hampered rural development and weakened local government. More than 80 percent of government officials are based in the capital.
Aid donors agree that giving more financial and political control to local councillors and mayors would allow money to be spent more effectively on development projects that reflect the real needs and priorities of local communities.
“Decentralisation would bring greater political stability and community-led participation and ownership of their development. It’s a missed opportunity in Haiti. Politically, we should advocate for it more,” said Jean-Michel Vigreux, Haiti country director for the charity CARE.
* Reverse deforestation
Decades of deforestation have left Haiti with less than two percent of its original forest cover, according to the U.N. This causes soil erosion and reduces the ability of the soil to retain water, making Haiti more vulnerable to flooding and landslides whenever hurricanes and heavy rains hit the country.
“The environment has been so depleted and degraded that it has increased Haiti’s vulnerability to disasters. Every time there’s a disaster we go two steps backwards,” Vigreux said.
Deforestation stems from Haiti’s dependency on trees as the main source of fuel. Aid donors say more needs to be done to shift people from charcoal-burning stoves to other forms of energy like electricity and solar power.
* Do more to reduce impact of disasters
Haiti already suffers more natural disasters than almost any other country – and it’s going to get worse.
“There’ll be an increasing number of natural disasters and emergencies that Haiti will have to face in the years to come,” said Andrew Pugh, Oxfam's country director in Haiti.
The lack of flood prevention measures, such as flood walls and dredged rivers, along with deforestation, have magnified the damage and casualties hurricanes leave in their wake. This year’s two big tropical storms, Isaac in August and Sandy in October, caused major flooding, killed around 70 people, and wiped out more than a quarter of Haiti’s 2012 farm output.
“Natural disasters, aside from the earthquake, are structural problems in Haiti. The fact that there are no proper drainage or water management systems is already a very big problem and needs to be dealt with,” OCHA’s Peleman said.
* Support Haitian farmers
Around 60 percent of Haiti’s active working population live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their food and livelihood. But successive governments have failed to invest in rural development. This year spending on agriculture was cut from nine to six percent of the national budget.
“We think the government should invest more in agriculture. We think there needs to be more leadership from the agriculture minister and more recognition of that leadership. The production per hectare hasn’t changed significantly in recent years,” Oxfam’s Pugh said.
Aid donors are pushing for a long-term agriculture policy to combat widespread soil erosion, help small farmers improve yields of staple foods such as rice, and provide access to loans for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and equipment.
The government put in place a $790 million agricultural investment plan for 2010-2016, nearly half of it funded by donors, but there’s a serious lack of coordination between the two. “It doesn’t feel like donors and the government national plan are on the same page,” said Oxfam’s Pugh.
* Tackle land tenure problems
Unclear laws on land rights and ownership, a dysfunctional land registry system and negotiations with big landowners have delayed resettling those living in camps and the overall reconstruction effort.
“The main reason why more housing isn’t being built is because of land tenure issues, deciding who owns what and sorting out land claims from three or four different parties. It also puts off private investors, local and foreign, who are reluctant to put money into building housing and reconstruction,” said Brian Concannon, head of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
* Make education a priority
The government has made providing free primary education a key priority, but there’s a long way to go. Even before the earthquake, only about two-thirds of Haitian children were enrolled in primary school and less than one third of those reached sixth grade.
“It’s about trying to get a generation of kids educated so that they can take things forward themselves in the future. Education is a fundamental issue for the future of Haiti. We need Haitians to take higher level jobs and leadership roles to improve their own country,’ said Jeff Wright, operations director for emergency affairs at World Vision.
Improving education could also help reverse Haiti’s acute brain drain. Since the 1960’s, around three million Haitians have left the country, driven away by the Duvalier dictatorship and the desire for a better life. Their exodus depleted the middle class and skilled labour force.
“Haiti needs to develop its civil service. For any form of development and reform to take place, you need to have a strong civil service and technocrat base,” ICRC’s Ashmore said.