Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Haiti - 6 Months later...

Today instead of showing and discussing luxury items and amazing talent, I wanted to take some time to discuss something that has been on my heart, Haiti.  It has been six months since Haiti's devastating earthquake, which killed more than 225,000 people and the number of injured at almost 310,000 people. The government of Haiti estimates that 3 million people were affected by the earthquake, leaving as many as 1.6 million people displaced from their homes and communities.

To make matters worse, it is reported that less than 2% of the $10 billion pledged to help rebuild the country has actually been received, leaving a lot of "deadbeat donors" out there. The United States is one that pledged 1.5 billion dollars, of which zero has been sent due to "red tape" and as an American, this disgusts me. Australia and Brazil on the other hand have fulfilled their pledges already.
To make matters worse, there are also bottlenecks in aid distribution
Despite the billions of dollars pledged to Haiti since the quake by donor countries and aid agencies, it's not hard to find earthquake survivors struggling to find food and shelter. The Haitian government asked aid groups at the end of April to stop food distribution, saying the free handouts were undercutting local markets. Meanwhile, charity organizations say Haiti's notoriously inefficient customs office is delaying the release of material to build sturdier homes.

Julie Sell, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, says "aid groups have made progress in the past six months despite the challenges". She points to the lack of major disease outbreaks or mass hunger. She continues to say that "the Red Cross have said that we will be in Haiti until every dollar donated for Haiti is spent," she says, estimating that will be at least three to five more years.

Some are concerned about the lack of accountability and transparency of the humanitarian community working in Haiti.  "Looking back over the last six months, the lack of transparency by relief groups has caused much of the coordination problems that continue to plague the response," says Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit watchdog group. This week, the Disaster Accountability Project released a report on the transparency of aid groups working in Haiti.

Criticism of the slow pace of recovery in Haiti is mounting. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently released a report, "Haiti At A Crossroads," blasting aid groups for not coordinating recovery efforts better. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry criticized Haiti's leaders for not making the difficult decisions needed to move forward faster.

One of the most critical needs right now is clearing the rubble and finding the space. Finding suitable relocation sites to build housing for the homeless. "I am not going to take the property of the government, of the state, just to give to people that just tell me that they need land," says Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. "I have to understand better what is your plan," he says, adding that it can't be done at the whim of every foreign aid group.

Earthquake debris is a major obstacle in Haiti to progress. With only one official debris dump site identified in the country and not enough heavy machinery, the U.N. estimates that at the current rate it will take more than a decade to clear Port-au-Prince of rubble.
Still, the capital's streets are a hive of activity, with people armed with shovels and picks breaking and cleaning sites left in shambles from the quake. At MFD camp in Port-au-Prince, much of the debris is being removed by hand. The American Red Cross pays camp residents about $4 a day to clear rubble from a storm drainage channel. Before the quake, most Haitians lived on less than $2 a day. And these days, there are few jobs.

While the work gives residents much needed money for food, the government says the work-for-cash programs are drawing even more people into the congested capital and overcrowded camps.

At Corail-Cesselesse, a relocation site nine miles north of Port-au-Prince, rows of blue tents house more than 5,000 earthquake survivors. Foreign aid groups, including World Vision and Oxfam have built latrines, showers, and water stations atop the rocky, windswept ground. Both of these charities were already in Haiti at the time of the disaster. The charities had hoped to move some families out of tents by now and into sturdier homes. Mary Kate MacIsaac of World Vision knocks on the wooden wall of a transitional home. "This wall here, some donors consider that permanent housing. They say, 'Oops, you are building with plywood. We don't want you to do that with our funds.' " MacIsaac said it took a few weeks to convince donors that wood and steel were vital if the houses were going to withstand hurricane-strength winds.

At MFD camp (Fraternal Mobilization for Development), the days of quake survivors, like those of hundreds of thousands of people across the city, are filled with mundane tasks like washing clothes and a lot of waiting. Inside a tiny cinder block church, residents sing psalms and try to escape the intense summer heat. "You can have a lot of money and a lot of skill and a lot of resources standing by ready to help," says Sell of the American Red Cross. "But sorting out a solution can be a very complex thing to do."

"We still have not moved into the recovery phase", said Leslie Voltaire, participating in a four-person panel that took stock of United Nations efforts in Haiti. The distinction between earthquake victims and those of chronic poverty had been erased. The Government had set up clusters to coordinate emergency aid, but efforts to exchange information had been problematic. The main challenge would be to increase Haitian firms' ability to absorb aid, as they had been able only to absorb 5 to 10 per cent of pledged assistance. There was hope that the new Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former United States President Bill Clinton,would help change that situation.

To find out more about the crisis in Haiti or more importantly, how you can help, please visit any of the following links and click to donate.

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