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!