So Ross was in Haiti last night, who could have predicted it would be so topical after the awful events in Japan last week? That is a discussion for another time, we can only hope that the human toll in Japan is as great as it was in Haiti.
Ross was assessing the situation of the country 10 months after the Jan 2010 earthquake that devastated what was already the poorest & close to the most dangerous, country in the Western Hemisphere. Lasting a mere 47seconds the earthquake killed approximately 330,000 people and injured around 300,000. Almost 3.5 million people (1/3) of the countries population) were affected, by loss of homes and livelihood. A significant proportion of civil servant and police were lost and an overwhelming majority of schools – particularly in the capital Port Au Price – destroyed, the country’s ability to regenerate was directly impacted (more on that later). The final and important implication of the earthquake was the destruction of 8 of the countries 17 prisons. This resulted in 60% of the countries total prison population escaping and has contributed significantly to the conditions Haitians have suffered since the quake.
Haiti as mentioned has suffered from many years of corruption and mismanagement, but was pre the Hurricane getting to the stage where it was expected to achieve three of the Millennium Development Goals – (Universalization of primary education, Child mortality and HIV/AIDS). Today, its highly unlikely that that will occur.
Ross’s indicated that crime, corruption and politics has meant that not a great deal had changed for the average Haitian in the 10 months since the earthquake. Access to water was limited, many camps didn’t have toilets and a significant number of families were sleeping in tents. The impact of the hurricane in the summer was well documented, but essentially that resulted in tents being destroyed and further distress for an already displaced people. More worryingly, some families were still living in the ruins of their original houses, dangerous as well as uncomfortable.
|Street in Haiti one year after the Hurricane|
In terms of the aftermath of the Hurricane, only 2% of rubble had been shifted by Oct. A expert who had helped with the clean up post Hurricane Katrina had been called in to help. He indicated that hard decisions needed to be made. Financial aid was being used to provide food and water for people who live in tents – clearly required, but the lack of infrastructure and planning is stopping long term progress. The expert felt that aid should be diverted towards the clean up campaign, but no one wanted to make the unpopular decision to do that. The other side effect of this was that some aid was being with held as people didn’t want to see the money ‘thrown away on unplanned projects. As Ross mentioned, “in a perverse way, this could be best thing that had happened to Haiti” as it could allow it to be rebuilt. Immediately post the hurricane, $5bn worth of aid was 'spontaneously donated' by the international community. Unfortunately, they would first need to convince donors that they have a ‘master plan’. Last night’s documentary only served to highlight that, that is sorely lacking.
To add insult to injury, there was and out break of cholera, a direct result of the poor sanitation, that to date (March 2011) has left 4,500 plus dead and affected over 230,000 nationwide. It was the first outbreak in Haiti’s history and as a result was incorrectly attributed to the UN troops. This led to violence against UN troops which further exacerbated dangerous conditions. Today, it appears that the rate of infection is reducing and a recent UN report states that:
With a lot of effort the new weekly cases recorded have diminished from 12.000 per week to less than 4,000 and the daily case fatality rate in Haiti is now below one per cent compared to almost ten percent at the outset.
Ross then turned his attention to criminals that had escaped during the earthquake and the UN police who were “determined to put them back behind bars”. We learned that with at least half of the population of Port Au Prince living in IDP camps, they are a haven for criminals. Ross met and aid worker who told him he was forced to pay a portion of his wages to criminals to ensure safe passage,. He also told a horrific story of a 10 yr old who had been raped 3 times, but the perpetrators were still wandering the streets. The police presence being almost pointless, 4 officers ‘protecting’ 50,000 people, the criminal pretty much had and still have, the run of the place.
Added to all of this is the corruption, endemic in Haitian government. On questioning, local people indicated that conditions they were living in are appalling and that they didn’t believe a change in Government would make a difference. Another local talked of the 40 – 50 yrs of misrule and the fact that human right violations occurred on a daily basis, its no wonder the locals were sceptical. The impending election had pretty much halted all decision making whilst the politicians campaigned/refused to make unpopular decisions for fear of losing votes. On the day, the actual elections were a shambles, with registered voters unbale to do so, other claiming to have been paid to vote in a particular way. As day wore on people started to claim the election was a farce and unsurprisingly, the ruling administration clung to power as violence erupted. One shocking stat was that election cost $29million. $29million spent on an election whilst the country lay in ruin & people were dying around them. It was clear where the politicians priorities lay…
So what is the situation today over a year after the earthquake struck? Not great actually…On the upside the international community did react relatively quickly and funds ensured that people had food and water and continue to do so. Good work is still being done by a number of celebs, notably Sean Penn, who still trying to maintain focus. There is also a commission in place to ensure that aid is properly distributed. The UN will play a role in the impending elections in this month, which, if they are seen to be fair, should help to restore some political stability to the country. Political stability is key to the success of any regeneration efforts, whoever ultimately leads the country needs to be free to implement regeneration plans. That won’t happen if they are distracted by petty concerns,
Unfortunatly though, a year after the quake, workers were still finding bodies in the rubble. Apart from the horrific though of finding bodies that long after the event, the key point is to note that bodies are being found “in the rubble”, indicating that infrastructural problems are still firmly at the fore front of Haiti’s issues. I should point out that approx 20% of the rubble has now been cleared, which in theory should make it easier to move the rest, as it’s more accessible. To effect that though, relies on the existence of aid and that aid is currently not forthcoming due to the absence of a clear regeneration plan. The tent city in Port Au Prince is still in place and residents see no sign of that changing in the near future . A recent article indicates that “There are reports of suspected sex slave trafficking, and widespread abuse and rape which has led to a mini-baby boom in the country” The UN Report I mentioned earlier also said:
“The transition from the humanitarian phase to the development one has been slow and continues to be very challenging. Needless to say, this devastating earthquake, and subsequent crises have exasperated and amplified most of the structural challenges that Haiti was facing prior to 12 January 2010: a weak institutional and administrative capacity, over-centralization, economic vulnerability, extreme socio-economic disparities and chronic poverty, environmental degradation, a fragile and polarized political system, insecurity and a weak rule of law apparatus. So we are dealing not only with a “rebuilding effort” but a transformation that involves not only the people affected by the earthquake, but with the needs of the population at large, that lacks, as do the displaced people in the camps, access to the most basic services, that are mainly been provided by the humanitarian community.”
As the SRSG in Haiti Edmund Mullet points out “The absence of rule of law, …has undermined the confidence of the people in their Government, allowed corruption to flourish and is also a major contributing factor to the political instability in Haiti. The Rule of Law, of course, is police, prisons, justice. But rule of law is also land registry, a birth registry, construction and building codes, commercial laws: it is the capacity of the State to collect taxes to guarantee a level of legal security to promote entrepreneurship investments, job creation, to facilitate economic development.”
…We have to reflect on why, after so many years and resources spend on project on this area, results are so weak and limited. Part of the answer lies in the fact that “the interventions in support of the rule of law have remained largely donor driven. ..for the rule of law to take root, it must be pushed by domestic constituencies”. The UN and UNDP have an important role to play in this direction!
In summary, Haiti needs a proper long term plan to ensure (a) aid is forthcoming (b) resources are correctly prioritised (c) they move from short term, ‘fix it’ type measures, to longer term solutions. Its difficult to see how that will happen without serious international intervention. Sadly, I can’t see a country like Haiti, with no significant natural resource or strategic importance, ever being prioritised.
Next week is the last in the series and Ross said he would be in the UK. There was no trailer, I am intrigued....