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Haiti at a Crossroads

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Friday, 25 June 2010 16:14
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report entitled, "Haiti at a Crossroads" was released earlier this week which warns that "there are worrisome signs that the rebuilding process in Haiti has stalled." The report is critical of the Haitian government, especially as it regards the issue of resettlement, but also for not sufficiently communicating with the Haitian people and for dragging its feet in development projects. In an interview with the AP earlier this week, Prime Minister Bellerive responded to some of these criticisms, as AP reports:
With a chuckle, he also said it is unfair for U.S. officials to take him to task when the Senate still has not approved aid money that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised at the donors' conference.

"They ask me to move more projects when the money is still on hold," Bellerive said.
While critical of the Haitian government, the report understands the US and international community have a vital role to play:
“It is essential that the United States and the international donor community improve their coordination and help an under-resourced Haitian Government make important policy decisions and address key rebuilding challenges before any more time passes.”
Although the issue of resettlement is repeatedly brought up, the report fails to address how the US and international community can help the Haitian government. The report states that, "key land-policy decisions have been inexplicably delayed", however does not suggest nor support moves by the Haitian government to expropriate land for this use. As we have noted before, as yet there have been no statements of support from the US or international community on this issue despite the fact that the large landholders in Haiti often have close connections with the US.

The report does, however, acknowledge the dire situation in the make-shift camps:
Plans for moving the displaced population out of tent cities and into more durable shelter, not to mention permanent housing, remain in early draft form. This is particularly alarming given the onset of the hurricane season. Even a modest hurricane could kill many thousands. The current rainy season also threatens lives by increasing the spread of communicable diseases, particularly in the squalor of the camps.
Another major focus of the report is on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which only met for the first time last week (for a list of the IHRC delegates, click here). The Senate report questions whether the IHRC is overly bureaucratic and notes that there are significant disagreements between donor countries on the implementation of the IHRC. Although continually stressing that "this must be a Haitian-owned process", there are some signs that the IHRC will designate the majority of reconstruction contracts to foreign firms. Journalist Kim Ives reported this week that he was told that, "only 15% of the contracts will be going to Haitian contractors," a worrying figure.

Overall, although the report raises some important issues, it would be strengthened by including more concrete suggestions for steps the US could take to aid the reconstruction process. First, despite billions of dollars pledged to Haiti at the UN Donor Conference in New York, only an incredibly small fraction has been delivered. Furthermore, the US could take a much more active role in securing land for resettlement. Although the report applauds the "remarkable job in the relief phase", and focuses on longer-term rebuilding issues, there remain immense needs on the ground. Upwards of hundreds of thousands may still have no shelter at all, while food, water and sanitation are all still major issues. On the provision of food, the report makes no mention of the distortions caused by a massive influx of foreign rice and other foodstuffs and would be strengthened by highlighting alternatives such as local procurement which could greatly benefit Haiti's reconstruction and development.
 

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