Saturday, January 08, 2011

Why Haiti still hasn't recovered one year later

One year after the Haitian earthquake over 12,000 NGOs and aid groups are still working in the country to help it recover. The efforts of all of these groups ofter overlap and conflict with each other. Many think that with all of these groups and all of the money donated that Haiti would be back on it's feet by now, but the aid groups say it is not that easy.

From the Vancouver Sun, writer Rene Bruemmer visited Red Cross efforts in Haiti for an explanation.

Ask Canadian Red Cross spokeswoman Sophie Chavanel what happened to all the money Canadians donated and why it seems little has changed one year after the earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated quarter-million people, and she doesn't quite roll her eyes, but you can tell she'd like to.

"Everybody asks me that," she said while giving a tour of a new community of 360 transitional homes being built on a former runway near Port-au-Prince's international airport. "Even my 12-year-old sister back in Montreal asks me that."

It's a valid question, especially for Canadians, who donated $189 million to the Red Cross for earthquake relief -- the largest donation per capita of any country. Yet one year later, most of the 1.5 million rendered homeless are still homeless, and while this new community of 18-square-metre homes -- built of plywood, two-by-fours and tin, and scheduled to be completed this month -- will help, it still only represents housing for 1,800 people.

"Of course, we'd like to have every family in a home right now," Chavanel said. "But it's not that simple. Think how long it will take Quebec to rebuild the Turcot Interchange (near Montreal) -- years. And that's in a rich country with access to supplies."

The earthquake was followed by the largest rescue mission in Red Cross history: 250,000 dead, 1.5 million without homes or access to water and food, rubble-clogged roads and an already fragile government virtually paralyzed. Large aid groups had to feed these people, get them water, find them housing. Without detracting from the work of smaller NGOs that build a school and leave, the Red Cross deals with larger logistical issues -- it is still delivering 2.5 million litres of clean water a day to the hundreds of tent camps, Chavanel noted. The Red Cross continues to work on housing, health care, security and sanitation.

Haitian Montrealer Luck Mervil, a popular singer who has been working on aid for Haiti for five years, disagrees.

"Aid," he said, "is a business, with donors making money."

Haiti has received aid for 50 years, and nothing has changed because so-called aid groups, including the Red Cross, are either doing it wrong or perpetuating the situation for their own good, he said.

"Name me one country that has lifted itself out of poverty by relying on aid," he said. "There are none."

More than 98 per cent of U.S. contracts for reconstructing Haiti have gone to American companies, he said, citing an Associated Press report. On top of that, Mervil added, aid organizations don't work together, making them less efficient. For aid to work, it must focus on rebuilding Haiti's infrastructure so the country can run itself.

"Look at Brazil. It focused on its core problems -- education, health care, jobs for its poor people -- and it is burgeoning."

Mervil's project, Vilaj Vilaj, which aims to create a community of 5,000 living in renovated shipping containers and requires funding of $25 million, will be completely run by Haitians, he said.

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