Pledges of help still buried in the rubble

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am

A year after the catastrophic Haitian earthquake, reconstruction in the impoverished island nation has yet to begin. For everyone who gave generously, for aid agencies like Oxfam which launched a massive emergency response programme, and most importantly for Haitians, this lack of progress is deeply disappointing.

The earthquake struck a country that was already the poorest in its hemisphere. It seemed, to some, like a curse on a people who had already suffered too much. And yet incredibly, some Haitians still had hope. 'This is our once-in-a-century chance for change,' they told us. The destruction was so great that Haiti would have to be rebuilt from the ground up. And that would be a good thing, many Haitians said.

In the spring, the city of Port-au-Prince turned into a capital of tents and tarpaulins, pop-up field clinics and temporary latrines. Over one million people left homeless by the quake scattered into spontaneous camps. Despite the enormity of needs, the global humanitarian response saved millions of lives.

But, as spring turned to summer and then autumn, those one million people were still crouched under tarps, first under the baking sun, and then violent rains from tropical storms and hurricanes. In late October, cholera started killing Haitians in rural central Haiti. The disease, highly preventable and treatable, spread to every province.

After a solemn Christmas and New Year, Haitians are facing tremendous challenges for 2011. One million people need to return home or be helped to find new homes. And the only way to stop cholera spreading is to ensure that over nine million people have access to clean water and information about good basic hygiene.

Even for Haitians, these challenges may seem insurmountable. Yet the enormity of the tasks cannot be an excuse for inaction. We have a responsibility to move forward, to take tough decisions, to listen to Haitians and put aside our own agendas, to diminish suffering and alleviate poverty.

What Haiti needs now is leadership from its sovereign government. Haiti's government needs the support of the international community, particularly donors. Governments who pledged billions of dollars after the earthquake have yet to fully honour their promises.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission was founded in April to facilitate approval of major reconstruction projects, improve accountability and help build capacity. Yet nine months into its term, the commission, under the leadership of former US president Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, has failed to live up to its mandate. Donors are acting according to their own agendas.

Donors must prioritise projects that meet Haitians' needs, instead of lobbying for their own agendas. Only when the government, with donor support, takes key decisions on job creation, rubble removal and resettlement, can we move from the band-aid of emergency aid towards sustainable solutions for Haiti.

Roger Ricafort is director of the International Programmes Unit at Oxfam Hong Kong