(HN, Oct. 12, 2010) – Nine months ago, on January 12, 2010, the island nation of Haiti experienced a massive earthquake, killing almost 225,000 people and leaving more than a million people homeless.
Days after the quake struck, just outside of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, a journalist covering the devastation was quoted as saying: “Haiti will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, as even in good times, Haiti is an economic wreck, balancing precariously on the razor's edge of calamity."
And on a recent June 2010 return to the island nation, CNN journalists described Port au Prince as: “It looks like the earthquake happened yesterday.”
HURRY UP AND WAIT:
Within days of the calamity, several international appeals were launched and many countries responded to calls for humanitarian aid help; pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel to the devastated island nation.
The US, Iceland, China, Qatar, Israel, South Korea, Jordan and many others were among the global neighbors who supplied communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities, hospitals, and electrical networks that had been damaged by the earthquake, which hampered rescue and aid efforts. Confusion over who was in charge, air traffic congestion, and problems with cargo transportation further complicated relief work in the early days.
Mass graves containing tens of thousands of bodies were centered outside of cities as morgues and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the dead. Getting enough supplies, medical care and sanitation became urgent needs; and a lack of aid distribution led to angry protests from humanitarian workers and survivors with looting and sporadic violence breaking out.
Just ten days after the 7.2 quake struck, on January 22 the United Nations stated that the emergency phase of the relief operation was subsiding, and the next day the Haitian government called off the search for quake survivors.
One aspect that made the disaster response unique was the deployment of new technology: the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters provided satellite images of Haiti to be shared with rescue groups along with help from GeoEye; the curation site Ushahidi coordinated texts, messages and reports from multiple sources; social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter aggregated members asking for help; the Red Cross and other organizations set records for text message donations.
Also in the immediate aftermath of the quake US President Barack Obama asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead a major fundraising effort to help the Haitian people. Together they established the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) - which has raised over $50 million from over 230,000 individuals and organizations, and has disbursed more than $4 million in grants to organizations on the ground in Haiti providing near-term relief and recovery assistance, designed to help the people of Haiti rebuild - and build back better.
Since the initial round of donations were pledged, on January 25th there was a one-day conference held in Montreal, Canada to assess the relief effort and make further plans. Haitian Prime Minister Jean Bellerive told the audience from 20 countries that Haiti would “need massive support for its recovery from the international community”.
Another donors' conference, delayed by almost 3 months, took place at UN headquarters in New York in March. The 26-member international Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, headed by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister didn't get together until last June 2010. That committee is set to oversee the $5.3 billion pledged internationally for the first two years of Haiti's reconstruction; but only ten percent of it has been delivered, mostly as forgiven debt to Haiti. The rest is stalled in more than 60 countries and organizations that pledged help.
Still, nine months later, international officials are looking at the long term planning needs of reconstruction while also continuing to deal with the daily task of managing the emergency situation.
Here’s where things stand at the moment:
- As of October 1, there were over 1 million refugees living in 1300 tent cities throughout the country in what’s been called `treacherous’ humanitarian situation;
- As much as 98% of the rubble from the quake remains uncleared. An estimated 26 million cubic yards (20 million cubic meters) remain, making most of the capital impassable, and thousands of bodies remained in the rubble.
- The number of people living in relief camps of tents and tarps since the quake was 1.6 million, with almost no transitional housing had been built. Most of the camps have no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal, and the tents were beginning to fall apart. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls.
- From 23 major charities, $1.1 billion has been collected for Haiti for relief efforts, but only two percent of the money has been released. According to a CBS report, $3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. Incredibly, by May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a check for $37,000.
The Haitian government said it was unable to tackle debris clean-up or the resettlement of homeless because it must prepare for hurricane season. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has been quoted as saying, "The real priority of the government is to protect the population from the next hurricane season, and most of our effort right now is going right now in that direction."
And if natural disasters weren’t enough to slay the spirit of the Haitian people, a new UN Report out this week states that “Wars, natural disasters and poor government institutions have contributed to a continuous state of undernourishment” in some 22 nations, including Haiti.
The hearty island nation is no stranger to turmoil and chaos: anyone reading its history from the time of the colonial powers would conclude this. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862. What should also come as no surprise to many is that before the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the nation needed help to survive, and now after the earthquake, the country is even more in need of help.
But what kind of help does Haiti need?
Refugees International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, made some startling claims in its latest field report, called "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase," just one day after former president Bill Clinton toured a Port-au-Prince camp. It says Haitians living in refugee camps set up after a devastating January earthquake are at risk of hunger, gang intimidation and rape.
“People are being threatened by gangs, and women are getting raped," said Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan in a release. "Practically no one is available to communicate with the people living in these squalid camps and find better ways to protect them." Refugees International says there are still 1,300 camps in Haiti, mostly run by the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Melanie Teff said Haitians still living in camps often have "no one to turn to for help."
"Young men come with weapons and rape the women. They haven't reported it, because the hospitals, the police — everything was destroyed in the earthquake," reports Hannah, a nurse who sleeps in a makeshift tent in a volatile camp outside of Port-au-Prince.
Bill Clinton, the co-chair of the commission overseeing Haiti's reconstruction, expressed frustration with the slow delivery of promised funds by donors who have delivered about $732 million of a promised $5.3 billion in funds for 2010-11, along with debt relief.
What’s needed according to Haitian officials, citizens and other experts are communication systems, project management, security, food, jobs, housing, mediation, regulatory easing to doing business, and political stability. According to Transparency International, an NGO which studies corruption levels worldwide in their annual , Haiti has a particularly high level of corruption making the rebuilding job even harder.
INCREASINGLY, PRIVATE EFFORTS ABOUND:
As the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation struggles to rise up from one of the most destructive natural catastrophes in recent history, Haiti and the huge international aid operation assisting it are looking to private enterprise and investment to be the powerhouse of reconstruction.
Despite $11 billion pledged by donors, the aid commitments work out at $110 a year for each of Haiti's 10 million people, a per capita sum which paled in comparison with huge needs in housing, infrastructure, health and education, on top of daunting humanitarian costs.
To help Haiti, companies such as The Timberland Co. says it plans to plant 5 million trees in the next five years in Haiti and in China’s Horqin Desert, two regions “that have long suffered severe and widespread impacts from deforestation.” And to increase its efforts, the shoe marketer is also launching the Timberland Earthkeepers Virtual Forest Facebook application. Consumers can help Timberland plant additional trees in Haiti (above and beyond the five in five commitments) by creating a virtual forest on Facebook. The larger the virtual forest, the more real trees planted.
The environment is one of the most significant factors most experts point to as both a past problem and a future solution for the beleaguered country. In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cook stoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification.
In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen with Hurricane Jeanne in September, 2004. While Jeanne was only a tropical storm at the time with weak winds, the rains caused large mudslides and coastal flooding which killed more than 1,500 people and left 200,000 starving and homeless. The UN and other nations dispatched several hundred troops in addition to those already stationed in Haiti to provide disaster relief assistance. Looting and desperation caused by hunger resulted in turmoil at food distribution centers.
Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. A September 10, 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid in light of the flood.
And, this, many experts agree, is just where Haiti’s reconstruction effort should begin – and could, in fact become a model for the rest of the world if done well.
Last week’s Haiti Huddle 2010 an effort of Helping Hands for a Sustainable Haiti, an organization founded by Lisa McFadin and Thera N. Kalmijn at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, brought together development, humanitarian and investment experts from both the US, Haiti and from other countries tackled several crucial issues.
The groups’ main mission was to work on breaking the logjam of red tape which has seemingly kept 1.3 million people living in refugee camps for the past nine months by focusing on culturally-appropriate solutions for and by Haitians; and working on practical sustainable solution to recreate an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable Haiti.
According to John Engle, of Haiti Partners, “Education and community infrastructure are the foundation to get to a meaningful development plan. The country must recognize what got us here. A lack of investment in education and lack of cultural sensitivity and in fact connectivity and communication is why little to no progress has been made in the emergency of what many Haitians are still dealing with.“
Sam Bloch, Country Coordinator in Haiti of Grass Roots United says, "There were literally hundreds of NGO's on the ground before the earthquake focusing on community empowerment, collaboration and providing basic resources. But even before the earthquake the fabric of this community was torn and broken. Starting now it must be re-woven. The Haitian community in country and in the larger Diaspora must re-unite and mobilize, in collaboration with all the organizations that pushed us aside after the disaster. We need to reconnect the service providers for such services as counseling, education, water, structures, food systems with community leaders.”
In fact one of the most important efforts that must be made according to Douglas Cohen, Founder of the Sustainable Haiti Coalition is, “Massive investments in education for longer term solutions, jobs, building schools, and revamping curriculum that includes wireless transmission for the whole country and which provides educational materials, and increases teachers’ salaries; paving the way to inter-active curricula; films, and video highlighting Haitian success stories, with Haitians implementing their own solutions.”
Other private efforts include electricity generators from E-Power, a $56.7 million Haitian-South Korean private investment that has forged ahead despite the January 12th earthquake; as well as an industrial park and garment manufacturing operation involving Sae-A Trading Company Limited, one of South Korea’s leading textile manufacturers, in a potential investment of between $10 million and $25 million being backed by the IFC and the U.S. State Department.
Last month, an Argentine entrepreneur announced a project with the Haiti-based WIN business group to build a $33 million, 240-room airport hotel in Port-au-Prince and there are government plans to create several special economic zones across the country. These would concentrate private businesses and investments in manufacturing, tourism and services, creating essential jobs and housing and driving development.
ELECTIONS COMING UP IN HAITI:
In Haiti, campaigning for next month's November 28 presidential elections is well under way. Nineteen candidates are vying to lead the earthquake-ravaged nation; and with Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean out of the race there's no clear front-runner. It could be a contentious battle for one of the toughest political jobs in the world.
The next president will have to oversee the reconstruction and try to redirect what was already one of the most dysfunctional nations on earth. Before the quake, roughly 80 percent of the population lived in poverty. Roads, electrical lines, sewers and other infrastructure were in desperate need of repair. Now, they need to be completely rebuilt, along with most of the capital city.
Allegations of fraud in Haitian elections are practically inevitable, but this year's balloting faces additional challenges. The quake destroyed 40 percent of the polling stations in the country, killed tens of thousands of voters and displaced hundreds of thousands of others; and numerous people lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards.
But whatever happens in Haiti’s elections, and whoever wins the crumbling Presidential palace, will have their hands full, eleven months later with the still critical priority of getting the lives of Haiti’s citizens along with the entire infrastructure of a long and storied nation, back on its feet again. And this, will certainly take a global village effort – private, NGO, corporate, government, and otherwise.
--- Written by HUMNEWS staff.
"WE ARE THE WORLD: FOR HAITI"