Thursday, January 12, 2012

Haiti: two years after the earthquake

After two years from the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti and its people, the country is still in desperate conditions and it is becoming more and more evident that the international community has failed to keep its promises. And the reasons for this failure are, of course, hard to establish.

Fact is that according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "more than 500,000 people still live in camps, and a cholera epidemic continues to claim lives ." Poor hygiene and poverty are the norm with 75 percent of the population living with less than $2 per day. Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for OCHA, said that the initial appeal for Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the massive earthquake two years ago that sought $1.5 billion was 75 percent funded and last year, humanitarian agencies received only 54 per cent of the requested $382 million.

Another UN agency, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), reported that it will continue to distribute food aid to some 1.5 million people each month through its school meals scheme, mother and children nutrition and food-for-work programmes in Haiti, but insufficient funding remains a concern. Food prices in the country have risen by 50 percent since 2010, which means that one out of every two Haitians are experiencing some kind of food shortages, WFP’s spokesperson, Gaëlle Sévenier, told reporters in Geneva. The agency’s capacity to respond has been affected by a budget deficit of $18 million for the next six months, she said. This year, some $231 million is required to continue efforts against the cholera outbreak and to fund other relief programmes, she added.

In addition to funding issues, Emmanuelle Schneider, OCHA spokesperson, sustains that "there are too many NGOs and hundreds of them have never registered their presence in the area." In other words, operating according to international standards, UN agencies cannot provide resources to organizations of which they do not know their modus operandi.

A report by the United States Institute of Peace, "Haiti: A Republic of NGOs?", addresses the concerns of the role of NGOs in Haiti's development. According to the report, "funneling aid through NGOs has perpetuated a situation of limited government capacity and weak institutions resulting in Haitians looking to NGOs rather than their government for basic public services."

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One study found that even before the 2010 earthquake, NGOs provided 70 percent of health care, and private schools (mostly NGO-run) accounted for 85 percent of national education. NGOs are seen as more reliable and able to provide the needed expertise, especially in the eyes of international donors, than the Haitian government. This approach, however, could undermine, in the long-run, the foundations for the creation of a stronger Haiti, thus affecting negatively today's recovery efforts.
According to the United States Institute of Peace, "the international donor community should reinforce the Haitian state’s capacity to regulate and coordinate NGOs, especially in the education, health and infrastructure (roads, buildings and reforestation)."

After two years since the devastating earthquake the international community should have accomplished more. Surely, many important projects have been carried out and foreign international aid has collectively saved thousands of lives. Now it is time to coordinate those efforts, keeping in mind the ultimate role of Haitian institutions. This approach will surely improve the ability of the Haitian government to take care of its people and gradually gain ownership of the recovery process.

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