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Haiti...six months on!
There has been much recent criticism about the slow rate of progress in the reconstruction of Haiti. Most of the problem here relates to red tape and bureaucracy holding up project development
There is little doubt that six months after Haiti was ravaged by the fifth deadliest earthquake in history (according to the U.S. Geological Survey), it's hard to find anybody involved in the reconstruction effort who isn't deeply frustrated by the lack of progress. The Haitian government estimates more than 220,000 people were killed and 300,000 injured by the quake. More than two million people were displaced from their homes. The United Nations reports six months after the disaster struck, about 1.5 million remain homeless and continue to live in overcrowded squalid camps. More than half of the inhabitants are children. Nigel Fisher, the deputy special representative for the stabilization mission in Haiti, agreed with the number of people that remain in overcrowded displacement camps and that he does not anticipate this number to reduce soon. Meanwhile, less than 10% of the $5.3 billion pledged toward Haitian relief at an United Nations conference in March has been delivered. International donors still have a year to make good on their promises. Former President Bill Clinton, co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission is annoyed at the slow recovery and has been critical of the international donors that have been slow to honour their commitments stating “I know it is horribly frustrating and the fact that this earthquake hit the most densely populated part of the country means that we have, on steroids, what is always the biggest problem after any natural disaster, which is the housing issue”. The United States' $1.15-billion pledge has yet to be approved by Congress, though Obama administration officials say the U.S. has spent more than $600 million on separate aid efforts.
So has all the efforts from NGOs and non-profits made any difference in the past six months? For a start let us look at the $600 million that the US government has spent “on separate aid efforts”. There is little doubt that vaccination and clean-water programs have produced better public health metrics than those seen before the earthquake. According to the United Nations, 1,300 camping sites and 11,000 latrines have been built, and thousands of kilos of food and humanitarian resources have been delivered to those in need. There have been heroic efforts by many volunteers and non-profit organisations over these six months and their massive personal effort have seen fledgling schools, churches and health clinics arise like a phoenix from the debris of the earthquake.
The problem is and I have seen it with my own eyes that there is no real coherent plan for removing debris or perform other vital logistical duties. It is easy to blame the lack of living government officials and the years of corrupt governance that existed long before the earthquake but it is hard to stand idly by and watch the convoys of patrolling UN trucks whose sole drivers display the latest coiffured hair styles and Gucci sun glasses through their half open windows and see how they make any real contribution to the underlying problem. Without the droves of tens of thousands of volunteers who participated in mission trips to this devastated island nation since the earthquake the story would be very different. In fact the contrast between those who came of their own personal volition and those who are paid to do a job of reconstructing the new Haiti could not be more contrasting.
Private philanthropic groups like the Irish charity Haven have set about the task with relish constructing new houses and latrines for the people. Hugh Brennan, a construction engineer involved in the project said “these people require sanitation and our focus is to get them to help themselves in constructing these projects. We have learned from the mistakes of the past and when you get a person to construct something themselves they are more willing to hold onto it.” “Most of the problem here relates to red tape and bureaucracy holding up project development”
It is known that complex legal and planning problems have stalled the efforts at clearing away the rubble. When I was in the Tabare shanty camp run by Bishop Peter and Gladys Dorcilien in Port au Prince the issue of property ownership raised its head towards the instillation of toilets for the inhabitants. “We are caught in a dilemma” he said. “We are sitting on land belonging to the American Embassy and if we install toilets they may come and ask us to leave!”
It has happened before as property ownership is complex in Haiti, where any land is very valuable and trying to sort out whom amongst the living really owns it becomes a tangled potion of intrigue that the voodoo gods of Baron Samedi and St. Jacques would be at odds to explain. There is also the problem of construction goods and aid supplies imprisoned at border checkpoints or in warehouses for many months until custom officials get the payments they demand for their release.
An opinion column in Citizen.com rightly states “There are really two stories of recovery. One involves what we might call the "big picture" of Haiti's future”. That story is one of bureaucratic entanglement, international politics and Haiti's history of poverty and deprivation. “The other story is the one that has been recounted by local volunteers”. There are many, like Peter Hanley and Peter Gannon from Dublin, who have organized aid drives and participated in mission trips to Haiti in order to rebuild schools, like the Miracle Restoration Centre in Port au Prince. I recently joined them on one of the trips and Gannon was quoted as saying “we are here for the long haul, long after every one of these organisations have packed up and left. Ireland has a tradition of building hedge schools when we were if difficulty ourselves and we will draw of this inner spirit to help these people during these difficult times”
Haiti's restoration in reality is many years away, It will happen slowly as common sense and speedy progress is slowly sacrificed on a human altar composed of governmental bureaucracy, corruption and ineptness. From time to time a chalice will be raised to the impoverished people of this island nation and it will contain the blood of the heroic efforts of the volunteers who have gave up their time and the sweat of a courageous populous who labour under the burning sun to carry away the debris of a broken infrastructure seen through the tinted sunglasses of the United Nation’s workers who pass them by.
Dr. Patrick Treacy
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Dr. Patrick Treacy is Medical Director of Ailesbury Clinics Ltd. He is Chairman of the Irish Association of Cosmetic Doctors and Irish Regional Representative of the BACD. He is a Medical Advisor to the UK's largest cosmetic website Consulting Rooms.