Six months after Haiti was ravaged by the fifth deadliest earthquake in history (according to the U.S. Geological Survey), it’s hard to find anybody involved in the reconstruction effort who isn’t deeply frustrated by the lack of progress. Relief organizations rail against the Haitian government for its failure to come up with a plan for removing debris or perform other vital logistical duties; government ministers fire back that the nonprofits are confusing matters by failing to coordinate their efforts. Former President Clinton, co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, is irked at international donors that have been slow to honor their commitments.
Topping the righteous indignation scale is CNN, which has aired dispatches showing children near starvation in an orphanage just a few miles from an aid warehouse bursting with undelivered food, and bulldozing contractors sitting idle while men were being paid to break up concrete debris with hammers and haul it away in buckets. Isn’t anybody in charge there?
Unfortunately, the problem of haphazard and corrupt governance existed long before the earthquake, and the deaths of thousands of government workers in the disaster have only made matters worse. Complex legal and planning problems have stalled such seemingly straightforward efforts as clearing away the rubble. Property ownership is a tangled web in Haiti, and sometimes the rubble itself is valuable or contains valuable possessions, but sorting out who owns it and getting permission to clear the mess away are serious challenges. Construction and other aid supplies are stuck for long periods in warehouses as customs officials demand payment. Even figuring out how to entice residents back to homes that are still standing, and what kind of repair help to offer them, has been agonizingly slow.
Meanwhile, less than 10% of the $5.3 billion pledged toward Haitian relief at a United Nations conference in March has been delivered. International donors still have a year to make good on their promises, but the sooner the money is made available, the better. The United States’ $1.15-billion pledge has yet to be approved by Congress, though Obama administration officials say the U.S. has spent more than $600 million on separate aid efforts. They pointed out last week that vaccination and clean-water programs have produced better public health metrics than those seen before the earthquake. That’s good news, but as hurricane season begins, and more than 1 million Haitians are still displaced — most living in tents or makeshift structures — it’s clearly not good enough.
Nobody said nation-building was easy. Yet we can, and must, do better in Haiti.