Saturday, 29 December 2012

POVERTY: Haiti: ‘Most everything went wrong’: Three years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, the reconstruction has barely begun

Thony Belizaire / AFP / Getty ImagesNearly three years after the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless, almost 360,000 people are still living in tents in Haiti.
On Jan. 10, 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake. Lofty ambitions followed the disaster, when the world aspired not only to repair the country, but to remake it. Despite billions of dollars spent — and billions more allocated but unspent — rebuilding has barely begun and 357,785 people still languish in 496 tent camps. “When you look at things, you say, ‘Hell, almost three years later, where is the reconstruction?’ ” said Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former prime minister. “If you ask what went right and what went wrong, the answer is, ‘Most everything went wrong.’ There needs to be some accountability for all that money.” The New York Times’ Deborah Sontag examines Haiti’s many problems.
At least $7.5-billion in aid has been disbursed. More than half has gone to relief aid, which saves lives and alleviates misery, but carries high costs and has no permanent effect — tents shred; emergency food and water are consumed; short-term jobs expire; transitional shelters, clinics and schools are not built to last. Only a portion went to earthquake reconstruction strictly defined. Instead, much of the recovery aid was spent on costly programs, like new highways and HIV prevention, and projects far from the disaster zone, like an industrial park in the north and a teaching hospital in the central plateau. Meanwhile, just a sliver of the total disbursement — $215-million — has been allocated to the most obvious and pressing need: safe, permanent housing. “Housing is difficult and messy, and donors have shied away from it,” said Josef Leitmann, manager of the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF).
Dieu Nalio Chery / The Associated Press
Dieu Nalio Chery / The Associated PressMileine Pierre, 34, combs the hair of her daughter Jessy Vila, 10, as she holds her other daughter Jesnove Vila, 3, outside their tent where they live in the Tapis Vert camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Disbursed does not necessarily meant spent. Sometimes, the money has simply been shifted from one bank account to another as projects have bogged down. That is the case for nearly half the money for housing. The U.S., for instance, long ago disbursed $65-million to the HRF for the largest housing project planned for Port-au-Prince. The fund, which issued a January 2011 news release promising houses for 50,000 people, transferred the money to the World Bank, which is executing the project. And there almost all of it still sits, with contracts just signed. The U.S. still has more than $1-billion allocated for Haiti sitting in the Treasury, and the global Red Cross movement has more than $500-million. Spain has disbursed $100-million to Haiti’s water authority for infrastructure desperately needed during the continuing cholera epidemic, but only $15-million has been spent so far. Millions have been allocated to build and renovate 21 schools, but only one has been completed.
Almost all contracts have been awarded to foreign agencies, nonprofit groups and private contractors who, in turn, subcontract. Each layer adds 7% to 10% in administrative costs, says a paper by the Center for Global Development. “All the money that went to pay the salaries of foreigners and to rent expensive apartments and cars for foreigners while the situation of the country was degrading — there was something revolting about it,” Ms. Pierre Louis said. In a sentiment many Haitians share, Reginald Boulos, who runs a car dealership in the capital, said foreigners in Haiti “do everything at a cost five times higher.” Oxfam spent $96-million over two years, and devoted a third to management and logistics. Doctors Without Borders spent 58% of its $135-million in 2010 on staff and transportation.
More than two years ago, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Bernard Kouchner, the then-French foreign minister, signed an agreement to reconstruct Haiti’s largest medical centre in the capital. The shattered General Hospital, with some temporary renovations keeping it functional, still awaits its $70-million overhaul. Meanwhile, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) is spearheading a multi-year school rebuilding program being carried out by a Haitian public institution. The bank was hoping up to 21 new schools would open this fall. But a bank inspection last spring detected serious design flaws and construction errors. A fuller audit found the schools, despite being built after the earthquake, did not comply with anti-seismic or anti-hurricane standards. How much beyond the $15.4-million cost it will take to make them safe has yet to be determined, said Pablo Bachelet, a bank spokesman.
Tyler Anderson/ National Post Files
Tyler Anderson/ National Post FilesA man sits in front of a collapsed building as he watches a United Nations team remove bodies from the sidewalk in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In the months after the earthquake, foreigners, arriving by the planeload, took over. They did not mean to; nobody in the humanitarian world wanted to sharpen Haiti’s dependency on foreign help. But Haiti’s government was as shattered as its people, and old patterns of interaction are hard to break. Co-ordinating the disaster response, foreign humanitarians met on the isolated, gated United Nations logistics base and divided into clusters dealing with issues like shelter and health. Something was missing, though: “In the initial confusion and loss of life after the earthquake, the clusters effectively excluded their Haitian counterparts,” said Nigel Fisher, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator. “Little by little, we brought them in.” Still, many locals never shook off the feeling they were an afterthought and their institutions and businesses were being bypassed and undermined. Many of the best-educated Haitians were lured away from government and private-sector jobs by higher salaries offered by foreigners. “We called it the second earthquake,” said Jean-Yves Jason, mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time.
Idealistic discussions were not just about building back better. Former president René Préval wanted to use the initial exodus to the countryside to decongest Port-au-Prince permanently. Decentralization became the second mantra, guiding early commitments to spend significant reconstruction money outside the disaster zone. “There were all sorts of fantasies about shutting down the mess that is Port-au-Prince before people started to understand that there is a huge amount of capital built up in the city and, chaotic as it is, you don’t throw it out,” said Mr. Leitmann. The largest new settlement under construction is a $48-million Haitian government initiative on a barren, isolated site 16 kilometres east of Port-au-Prince in Morne à Cabri. Ms. Pierre-Louis says the houses look like “little tombs in the desert.” Critics also questioned the location of the U.S.-subsidized settlement in rural Caracol, far from the disaster, as well as the high cost of its one-bedroom homes. They are being built by a Minnesota company on a site prepared by a Maryland firm for $31,400 a house. A small one-family house in Port-au-Prince can be built for $6,000. Although the Caracol houses were supposed to be occupied by December, only 70 of 750 had been finished by November because of bad weather and logistical problems.
Tyler Anderson/ National Post Files
Tyler Anderson/ National Post FilesA view of a temporary camp for homeless Haitians from a Canadian Forces helicopter in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
New president Michel Martelly won international help to close six highly visible tent camps, repair 16 neighbourhoods and shut down the Champ de Mars settlement in downtown Port-au-Prince. Some Haitians felt he was trying to sweep the homelessness problem from view without resolving it — the neighbourhood repairs have lagged the camp closings . Others expressed relief he was taking action because a temporary solution was better than none at all. From the start, grand ambition had got in the way of tackling what was doable. “Early on, it seemed fairly clear that the only viable approach was to rebuild existing neighbourhoods,” said Priscilla Phelps, a U.S. consultant who advised the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) on housing. “But it took six to eight months to get the government used to that, and another four to six months to make the donors comfortable. Nobody wanted to think reconstruction might be a giant slum-upgrading project. They wanted little pastel houses and kids with ribbons in their hair to put on the cover of their annual report.” Mr. Boulos said, “I told the head of the American Red Cross, in front of Bill Clinton, ‘Let’s put the entire money in housing construction. Let’s repair the houses.’ But they had all kinds of reasons why not.”
In April 2010, Mr. Clinton was named co-president of the IHRC. Two months later, at a luxury hotel in the hills above Port-au-Prince, the commission had its first meeting. It would hold only six more, though, before the Haitian Parliament declined to renew its mandate and it faded into history, its website decommissioned and its public records erased. “As a tool for Bill Clinton, the commission was good; it helped him attract attention to Haiti,” said Mr. Boulos, a commission member. “As a tool to effectively coordinate assistance and manage the reconstruction, it was a failure.” Alexandre Abrantes, the World Bank’s special envoy to Haiti, disagreed: “Everybody badmouths it, but I miss it. It created a level of co-ordination, with everybody around the same table, which you find in few countries. I think people had unreasonable expectations that it would be an implementing agency.” But Ms. Phelps said, “It was like in a play — the facade of a reconstruction project. We never took a pro-active role in deciding what the country needed to get back on its feet and then asking the donors to finance those priorities instead of doing their own thing.”
Thony Belizaire / AFP / Getty Images
Thony Belizaire / AFP / Getty ImagesPeople work on houses being built by former US president Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity foundation for victims of the January 2010 earthquake in Leogane, 33km south of Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 26, 2012.
Initially, Mr. Clinton and Haitian leaders thought the private sector would play a larger role in rebuilding Haiti’s devastated housing. One relic of those aspirations is the abandoned site of a 2011 exposition in Zoranje, where scores of colourful prototype homes now sit empty, some padlocked, others plundered and used as toilets. Dreamed up at a meeting at Mr. Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., the expo cost millions in public and private money. By the time the exposition took place, the thinking about housing had changed and most contracts were going to be awarded for urban fix-it work instead. Next to the expo site is the only large new housing project completed. With $8.3-million in financing, mostly from IADB, most of its 400 small houses remained unoccupied for half a year, except in some cases by squatters, because authorities could not figure out how to connect the complex to water.
Mr. Fisher, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, said current projections are 200,000 Haitians will still be living in camps a year from now, on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake.

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