In July, the UK announced a new £7 million plan to relocate almost 20,000 Haitians from camps to safer rented homes. This gesture emphasises the need to tackle the danger and injustice of these living conditions. But it also calls into question why 300,000 people were still in tents, 3 years after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Of the $9 billion already pledged by the international community to rebuild Haiti, why was investment not made into securing these people's livelihoods? Where has this money gone?
These questions are pertinent because donors proclaimed and Haitians hoped that this enormous response would deliver more than short term emergency relief; that through long-term planning and permanent reconstruction aid, it was the boost Haitians needed to finally break free from chronic disadvantage and poverty. But this has not materialised. The destructive hurricane seasons continue to show that Haiti remains exceptionally vulnerable to future disasters. The UK mitigating the effects of camp flooding is just one example of a response to an emergency that could have been planned for. Moreover, poverty and unemployment continue to remain at some of the worst levels in the world, and many Haitians (not only those without permanent homes) still rely on foreign aid for basic necessities.
The following 6 figures indicate how much of the promised money was delivered, and how only a small amount went towards 'building back better' and making Haiti stronger from within:
This is the estimated figure invested in short-term solutions to the earthquake's destruction, such as displacement camps, tents, temporary shelters and grants for a years' rent. Only $215 milion has gone to safe, permanent housing. Aid money funded the construction of small, unstable shelters that lack electricity, plumbing and kitchen facilities, for tens of thousands of homeless people who have had no option but to settle there.
USAID pledged a total of $1.15 billion, but the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the majority of this went to US companies or organisations. Just 0.7% went directly to Haitian organisations or businesses. The largest recipients were the World Bank, the U.N. and Chemonics International Inc, a for-profit company. A third of the initial $379 million promised by the US for Haiti went back to the US as reimbursement for having sent its military.
Remarkably, over 300 farmers who were out of the earthquake's reach in 2010 now join the millions it displaced. They have been evicted (with compensation) from prime, fertile farming land in north-east Haiti to make way for the development of the Caracol industrial park. Costing $300 million, with the US as the biggest investor, the Haitian government predicts that the park will generate tens of thousands of jobs. Yet the project has been met with controversy as they call into question the government's commitment to its conservation plans, since Caracol Bay is deemed by environmentalists to be a conservation priority.
The nonprofit healthcare organisation, Partners in Health, received just under this amount in private donations for their Haiti relief fund. When the earthquake struck, they had an existing 5,000 staff, mostly Haitian, in the country. Compare this with the American Red Cross who had 15 staff in Haiti, but who received 6 times the donations of Partners of Health. This represents a skewed distribution of funds, begging the question of how much, or how little, the overall international response was serving Haitian interests.
The World Bank promised this amount to help fund the £2.2. billion 10-year project led by the Haitian government for a long-term upgrading of water, sanitation and health infrastructure. Another $36 million grant was approved just last month by the Inter-American Development Bank and Spain has contributed $100 million to water projects. But Haiti is 3 years into a cholera epidemic and still only has a fraction of what it needs to fund these initiatives that are so fundamental to combating the spread of the infection.
In many cases, foreign aid rescues lives and livelihoods that are put on the line when disaster strikes. But these figures paint a picture of how the reconstruction of Haiti has mainly been limited to short-term needs and often implemented around, instead of through, local channels.
It is true now, as it was in 2010, that long-term development designed by Haitians for Haitians is both possible and more efficient. Evidently, it is best achieved with transparency and accountability of both Haitian institutions and foreign NGO's, and coordination between the two. This way, plans that are counter-productive to protecting and strengthening Haiti's environment, civil society and infrastructure, can be avoided. Donors can instead invest in those that benefit lives now and in the future. In fact, it is crucial that they do. Rebuilding a less vulnerable, more prosperous Haiti is not yet a broken dream, because the energy, resilience and creativity in Haiti has shown that things can and do get done. The global community must keep believing this and supporting projects that will help make it a reality.
IMAGE: The neighbourhood of Fort National in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Picture taken from Mere Louise School, Av Poupelard.