Haphazard Aid Hindering Long-Term Recovery

That Haiti will not recover from the trauma of 2010 for many years is an unfortunate but understood fact. More disturbing, according to a new analysis, is that aspects of current aid efforts are undermining Haiti's ability to begin the reconstruction process and develop a strong, functional state infrastructure.

How donor funds have been spent in Haiti provides a glimpse of problems entrenched within the system of aid coordination and deliverance by aid groups, the U.N., and the Haitian government, say experts with the British charity Oxfam.

"It doesn't matter how much money you pour in unless you build up a government that is strong enough to take decisions," said Martin Hartberg, author of an Oxfam report released last week entitled "From Relief to Recovery: Supporting Good Governance in Post-Earthquake Haiti."

What is necessary "is for the government itself to take responsibility", he told IPS.

The Nov. 28 national election launched Haiti into yet another crisis, with leading candidates calling for the vote to be annulled or disputing preliminary results. Thousands were unable to vote.

An observer mission from the Organisation of American States is currently recounting ballots, and a runoff round is expected in late February, although President René Préval's mandate is supposed to end on Feb. 7.

Emmanuelle Schneider, a spokesperson for the U.N'.s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti, told IPS in an email, "We need political stability or no donors will have any incentive to give, and we need a strong government that will be able to make critical decisions."

But regardless of the elections' outcome, donors and the thousands of aid groups on the ground need to work with Haitian officials in order to translate their money and efforts into long-term success.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) was created for such a purpose, and to "ensure that the planning and implementation of the recovery efforts are Haitian-led", according to its website.

The IHRC, led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, also established a Performance and Anti-Corruption Office to increase transparency.

However, the recent Oxfam report concludes that the commission has failed at "improving coordination, building state capacity, and bringing donors and the government together to lead the reconstruction process effectively."

The international community also bears responsibility, having done too little to support good governance and effective leadership in Haiti, the report says.

The Jan. 12 earthquake destroyed 28 out of 29 government ministries. A year later, the government's resources and expertise remain extremely limited, said Hartberg. Instead of circumventing state officials, however, donors and international aid agencies should help build up Haiti's relatively weak infrastructure with skills, knowledge, and resources.

Yet according to the Oxfam report, "U.N. agencies and some NGOs have replicated or completely bypassed existing government bodies", while simultaneously donors have tended to provide assistance directly through the U.N. and Haitian and international NGOs.

This has led to poor coordination on fundamental aspects of rebuilding, the report said. For example, most donors provided money to build transitional housing but neglected to budget for clearing the estimated 20 million cubic metres of rubble. As a result, only five percent of the rubble has been cleared and only 15 percent of the temporary houses have been built a year later.

While thousands of lives have likely been saved by the work of humanitarian groups in Haiti, how funds and aid are distributed in the future could prove as important as the aid itself.

Not all government ministries are dysfunctional. Oxfam singled out the national water and sanitation authority, departments within the ministries of health and agriculture, and many local mayors as examples of "institutions that are capable of taking a leading role in the recovery".

But donors also need to disburse the funds they pledged, with transparency.

The Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti says that by the end of 2010, 63.6 percent of the 2.01 billion dollars pledged last year towards recovery activities had been disbursed by donors.

A total of 5.3 billion dollars was pledged toward immediate recovery efforts through 2011. The World Bank says that about 1.2 billion of that has been disbursed.

Haiti Aid Watchdog, an NGO based in Miami and Port-au- Prince, says that once the first few months following the January earthquake had passed, aid efforts were decreasingly visible even as Haiti continues to trudge along the long road to recovery.

While Haiti ran the gamut of disasters in 2010 from the earthquake in January to the cholera outbreak of the last three months, living conditions for the vast majority of the population even before those events were grim. More than half of all Haitians lived on less than a dollar a day, and one in three children was malnourished.

"Reconstruction takes time, especially in a country where the baseline is so low," Hartberg said. "It's been delayed too long."

The work that remains to be done should be expected to last "months if not years", said Schneider.

[Source: By Elizabeth Whitman, Reuters, United Nations, 10Jan11]

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