Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A year later, still a lot of rubble to clear in Haiti

It is clear that the needs of Haiti have overwhelmed the international community. Despite the best efforts of NGOs, governments and volunteers, Haiti has made little progress in a year.

The earthquake killed 40 percent of Haiti's workforce. Rebuilding that workforce to restore Haiti's economy will take a generation, not another year. In the meantime, those who are left still squat in tents and work for the government in clearing some rubble away.

From the USA Today story that marked the anniversary of the quake, writer William Wheeler describes the difficulty in clearing away the rubble created a year ago.

The United Nations, U.S. aid officials and Haiti's government insist that progress is being made though it's hard to see amid the widespread devastation. Still, that progress is piecemeal, a reflection of Haitian poverty and institutional weakness before the quake, the scale of devastation after, and the challenge of coordinating an international cast of actors carrying out their own rebuilding objectives, say aid experts.

The U.N. reported in December that the number of people left homeless by the quake had dropped from 1.5 million to 1 million. Even that possible sign of progress may not be what it seems, because the U.N. isn't sure whether those who left camps set up for the homeless had found decent housing. Elsewhere in this nation of close to 10 million that was struggling with poverty long before the quake, there is little sense that things have improved.

The unemployment rate here is the highest in the hemisphere. The U.S. government reports that as many as two-thirds of Haiti's workers have no job or are working very little. Most homes, schools and buildings that toppled in the quake have not been rebuilt; even the rubble has not been cleared. Crime is going up.

Despite some "heroic" efforts, former foreign service officer Ray Walser says the humanitarian response has been overwhelmed by the scale of Haiti's needs.

"The indicators on the ground are that the results don't match the effort," says Walser, senior policy analyst on Latin America at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Rubble is one reason that reconstruction has been slow. A RAND Corp. report published six months after the quake said rubble clearance is the "single most important step" to reconstruction. Yet much remains.

The removal process has been hampered by a lack of heavy equipment and difficulty maneuvering within the narrow confines of cramped neighborhoods. Much of the debris is being removed by hand — bucket by bucket, says Namy Registre, 42, a resident of Fort National who is being paid by the government to remove debris.

"The amount of debris in this city will take years" to clear, says Michele Montas, a former spokeswoman for the U.N. Secretary-General who is a special representative in Haiti. "No one has really devised a strategy to do it better. It costs too much."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others concluded it would take at least six more dumpsites and several new roads dedicated to moving rubble to get rid of all debris in one year.

The United States has given about $100 million for rubble removal and is responsible for more than half the amount cleared. Cheryl Mills, counselor and chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, considers the debris removed so far an "unseen victory," along with the rapid response to the cholera outbreak, gains in agriculture and getting 80% of the Haiti children who had been in school (a minority of Haiti's children) back to classrooms.

Officials say some progress is difficult to see. When journalists return to Haiti every few months, Montas says, they point to piles of rubble in the same spot they last saw piles and declare nothing has changed since they left.

"It's not the same rubble," she says.

No comments: