Down but not out

Haiti starts recovery from the earthquake and political disarray, what are its priorities?

Haiti suffered a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake on 14 August which killed 2,200 people, left 12,000 injured and 600,000 people in need of emergency assistance. The situation has been aggravated by the Tropical Storm Grace, which has hindered efforts on the ground to provide assistance to earthquake survivors. Unicef estimates that it will need USD 15 million to respond to the most urgent needs of 385,000 people.

Parts of the country remain isolated after the earthquake caused severe damage to key infrastructure. Roads, access to water, shelter and other basic services have left thousands in state of extreme vulnerability. Local residents claim that the only road linking the capital Port-Au-Prince to the most affected areas is plagued by gang violence over which the government has no control.

Haitians are in desperate need for shelter, safe drinking water and food. Unicef reported that 500,000 children find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability and many schools were damaged days before the start of the academic year. The caretaker government does not fully control the whole territory of the state and lacks technical expertise, funds and legitimacy to provide proper assistance to the population.

A local agricultural entrepreneur told us, “Hospitals in the surrounding areas are nearly full. Everything moves slowly and emergency crews are almost non-existent, we still don’t have the tools for these kinds of natural disasters.”

“Everything moves slowly and emergency crews are almost non-existent, we still don’t have the tools for these kinds of natural disasters.”

Agricultural entrepreneur, Haiti

It seems the government is repeating the same mistakes made in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, failing to provide a centralised coordination plan which Haitians desperately need. Several days after the earthquake, aid delivery continues to be chaotic, there is a lack of clarity in relation to which government agency is coordinating emergency efforts and government officials are providing contradicting orders.

A senior public official admitted, “We have a problem with infrastructure and logistics in Haiti: the roads are blocked or destroyed and we don’t have an airline connection or a cargo connection with the rest of the islands in the region.”

The local entrepreneur described some differences compared to the last earthquake, “The Prime Minister has said that all humanitarian aid must go through the Director of Civil Protection. This is a big difference from the last earthquake when we had 15,000 NGOs coming in and everyone basically doing what they wanted. The problem with this approach is that it increases the probability of corruption.”

A senior public official we spoke to had some further detail, “A local working unit has been put together including the private and public sector to oversee the disaster response. This is to make sure that the aid goes to the population rather than the construction of fancy offices. We saw a lot of abuse of aid after the 2010 earthquake, USD 10 billion of assistance was given, but where did that go? I hope this time it will be different.”

“We saw a lot of abuse of aid after the 2010 earthquake, USD 10 billion of assistance was given, but where did that go? I hope this time it will be different.”

Senior public official, Haiti

The situation in Haiti has not improved throughout the last decade with many macroeconomic challenges remaining. According to the senior public official, “Haiti has gone through a difficult period, culminating with the assassination of the President and the earthquake, the country is economically devastated too. There is a mass exodus of professionals and businesses and then there is COVID-19 to deal with too. It is not necessarily billions of dollars that will make the difference in Haiti, it needs a genuine interest to do good for the long run.

 

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