Good article on slow reconstruction in Haiti

This recent article gives a lot of reasons for the slow rebuilding so far in Haiti:

Funding delays, housing complexities slow Haiti rebuilding effort

The Washington Post, By William Booth and Mary Beth Sheridan, November 24,

2010; 9:26 PM

IN PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI Yolette Pierre says thank you, America. She points

to the plastic over her head, to a gray sack on the dirt floor, to a bucket

in the corner. Thank you for the tarp. Thank you for the rice. Thank you for

the water, too.

She is as sincere as she is poor.

The $3.5 billion in international relief spent after the worst natural

disaster in a generation succeeded in its main mission.

“We kept Haitians alive,” said Nigel Fisher, chief of the U.N. humanitarian


Now the really hard part begins.

To weary Haitians such as Pierre, mired in a fetid camp, hoping to sweep

away the tons of earthquake rubble and remake broken lives, the wait for $6

billion in rebuilding money promised in March by the United States and other

donor nations is more than frustrating. It is almost cruel.

Ten months after the earthquake left more than a million people homeless,

only a small fraction of that recovery money has been put into projects that

Haitians can see.

Of the $6 billion pledged for 2010 and 2011 at the U.N. donors conference in

March, $2 billion has been committed, but only $732 million has been

disbursed. Much of that money has gone to rebuild the government of Haiti:

paying salaries, plugging in computers, erecting large white air-conditioned


The delays in reconstruction reflect bureaucratic red tape in donor nations

and the complexity of rebuilding the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country,

which had little infrastructure, a snarled land-title system and a barely

functioning government before the disaster. One-third of the government’s

employees and most of its buildings were lost in the earthquake, which

killed 300,000. A cholera epidemic has killed hundreds more.

Robert Perito, a Haiti expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the

emergency response went well. “The reason for that is, we’re really good at

it. . . . We have all this capacity, these wonderful teams that deploy. It’s

nonpolitical. It’s humanitarian. There’s not a lot of decisions to be made.”

In contrast, reconstruction is all about deciding where and what to build.

“This is a classic conundrum in development theory,” he said. “It’s called

the development gap: How do you fill the gap between the emergency phase and

the long-term development phase?”

The U.S. government has provided more than $1 billion in relief assistance

to Haiti. It pledged another $1.15 billion at the March meeting, which

includes $917 million for Haiti’s redevelopment. The rest is debt relief.

After wending its way through Congress, in legislation made more complex

because it included money for



the first $120 million in U.S. funds for reconstruction were sent to the

World Bank on Nov. 9.

The donor nations are not the only ones lagging. The Clinton Bush Haiti

Fund, for example, has raised $52 million in pledges for long-term

development, but has only disbursed $6 million.

“I understand the frustration,” said Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to


But Merten and other officials defend the process. “Compared to other

large-scale disasters, we’re on track,” Merten said. “The United States

pledged the money in March, President Obama signed the legislation in July,

and the money is here in November.” Compared with other large supplemental

appropriations, “that is warp speed.”

Some media outlets erroneously reported that U.S. funding for Haiti was

being held up by a “secret hold” on the bill placed by Sen. Tom Coburn

(R-Okla.). But Coburn’s hold was on a separate bill, and State Department

officials say it hasn’t blocked money from flowing to Haiti.

Some donors say they don’t want to turn over development money until there

are firm plans for spending it. Haitian and international officials

acknowledge that it is much easier to hand out water than to plan modern

sanitation systems in a country that has never had any.

“You ask: Why are people still in camps? You might as well ask: Why are

Haitians poor? It is not rebuilding in Haiti. It is building,” said Fisher,

the U.N. official.

Nongovernmental organizations – charities, missionaries and aid contractors

– form a kind of parallel state in Haiti, but their efforts are often

uncoordinated and unsustainable. Many have focused on building schools and

clinics, not removing the rubble that clogs much of the city.

“The problem with rubble removal is it’s not very sexy,” said Tom Adams, the

Haiti special coordinator at the State Department. The U.S. government has

been paying over half of the rubble-removal costs in Haiti.

Alice Blanchet, special counsel to the prime minister, said 15 percent of

the aid has gone to the Haitian government to spend. “Let’s be realistic.

Where is the aid going? Not to government but to the NGOs, who only answer

to their boards. Whereas we are a government. We have to negotiate with

factions, with politicians, with the private sector, the press.”

To spend record amounts of money, the government of Haiti and its donors

created the Haiti Relief Fund, overseen by the World Bank, and the Interim

Haiti Recovery Commission, chaired by former president Bill Clinton and

Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, which has met three times and

approved 49 projects costing $2.4 billion.

Donor nations have insisted that Haiti allow unprecedented oversight,

transparency and veto powers for outsiders to guard against corruption and

waste. Setting up those processes, too, has been slow. The Interim Haiti

Recovery Commission has not hired anyone to run its anti-corruption office.

American officials initially thought the earthquake had destroyed most

housing in Port-au-Prince. “We quickly realized that’s not the case,” said

Paul Weisenfeld of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

About half of the houses in the capital have been assessed as structurally

solid or “green,” while about one-quarter are “yellow,” or can be fixed in a

few days by spending less than $4,000 per house, he said.

But people have been reluctant to move home because they fear another quake.

The camps, as bad as they are, serve as a magnet, because they provide

schooling, security, free water and health care.

In addition, most of the displaced Port-au-Prince residents were renters and

thus would have to pay if they moved back into their houses. Some have heard

rumors that camp dwellers will get free homes. International donors and the

Haitian government are reluctant to spend money fixing homes for free for

landlords without some concessions, such as cheap rent.

Eduardo Almeida, the head of the Inter-American Development Bank in Haiti,

said housing is complicated by poverty. In a country where people live on

$400 a year, if they receive a house, “they’ll sell it,” he said.

“Over the last six or seven months, we’ve been working very hard to identify

plots” to build new homes, Weisenfeld said. But officials have to figure out

who owns the land and ensure that the plots are not in flood plains.

Yvonne Tsikata, the World Bank’s director for the Caribbean, acknowledged

that the arrival of rebuilding money has been “a little slower than one

would have expected.”

But she said planning for reconstruction is finally coming together. “If the

political situation remains stable, you will see a big acceleration in the

beginning of next year.”

So these are a few of the reasons that things haven’t improved any faster than they have. This is hard for Americans to understand, and to have patience with. Once you’ve been down there, you realize that nothing happens fast…except driving!



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