Where does Haiti stand three years after its 7.0 earthquake?


On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit already deeply impoverished Haiti, killing more than 200,000 and leaving another 1.5 million in makeshift camps. It was one of the worst humanitarian disasters in years, and though the response was rapid and generous, three years and billions of dollars in aid later, hundreds of thousands are still without homes. How has aid money been spent and can Haiti ‘build back better?’


1.Where did the aid money go?
As horrific images and stories emerged from the rubble-filled Haitian streets, governments, residents, and private groups around the world began to write checks.

Governments and international agencies pledged $12.6 billion to be used to from 2010 to 2020. As of Sept. 2012, donors had disbursed roughly $6 billion (48 percent), according to the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. Pledges, however, are non-binding, and disbursed does not mean spent. Private organizations, mainly non-governmental organizations (NGOs), received $3 billion more in pledges.

At least $2.4 billion of the public aid was spent on providing food and water, handing out tarps, and other emergency aid. But that money is drying up. In 2012, aid agencies received just $63 million of the $151 million needed to carry out such work. They need $144 million more this year. Billions are needed for long-term reconstruction and to eradicate a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 8,000.

“There is some donor fatigue now,” says Andrew Pugh, country director for humanitarian organization Oxfam’s Haiti office. “But if the remaining 50 percent [of pledged money] is received, that will go a long way to helping Haiti.”

2.Where did the people go?
The estimated 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake descended upon any patch of green they could find to set up tarp-covered structures and tents. They surely thought the flimsy structures would be temporary. Yet, 347,284 Haitians still live in 450 camps today.

Those who moved out did so with the help of government, UN, and international NGO subsidies to pay rent for a year, or they moved in with family members. Still tens of thousands of others traded their shacks for equally precarious shelter in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince

“One of the biggest questions is what happened to these 1.2 million people that moved out of camps. Where did they go?” asks Jake Johnston, international research associate for the liberal, Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research.

To house the former camp dwellers, aid agencies have built 5,911 permanent houses and repaired another 18,725 homes that were damaged in the earthquake. The larger focus has been on constructing 110,964 temporary shelters, simple plywood structures meant to last no longer than a few years. 

3.What role is the government playing?
After a postponed, controversial general election, Michel Martelly, a musician-turned-politician, took office as president in May 2011. Political turmoil followed – including five months without a prime minister – leaving the government sidelined from the reconstruction process. 

Just 10 percent of the $6 billion in aid has gone to the government. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe recently told reporters that routing aid money to NGOs “weakened our institutions.”

That may be changing. The government and NGOs say they are working together more closely. “In 2010, there was very little [government] engagement,” Mr. Pugh says. “We see more capacity at the ministry level.… They’re taking an active leadership role.” 

“No country will get out of poverty living on charity,” President Martelly’s administration told The Christian Science Monitor. “True, Haiti still needs help, but Haitians need … jobs and sustainable development.” 

4.Is Haiti being ‘built back better?’
President Martelly has repeatedly said, “Haiti is open for business.” He has traveled the globe pushing for more foreign investment to create jobs.

The biggest success is the Caracol Industrial Park, a $300 million project on the north coast that could potentially employ 65,000. It opened this fall with one tenant, a subsidiary of a Korean sewing company, employing 1,000 people. Numerous hotels also continue to pop up: Last month workers broke ground on a Marriott expected to be Haiti’s first four-star hotel.

Yet, the economy is sluggish (growing by 2.6 percent, instead of the 7.9 percent the International Monetary Fund had projected). And summer storms devastated crops, pushing food prices higher, causing inflation to go up, and raising concerns of widespread hunger. 

Christian Science Monitor


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