ALNAP Launches Haiti Learning and Accountability Portal

  • Posted on: 14 July 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) has recently launched a Haiti Portal.  The portal will include evaluations of the Haiti response and other online resources.  In addition, it will provide participants an opportunity to discuss what is going well and what needs to be improved.  Haiti is still teetering between emergency response and reconstruction.  There are many issues that require further attention and action, first so we can improve efforts underway in Haiti and second to do a better job the next time a major urban disaster occurs.  Below is a summary of just a few of these issues. 


Aceh:  The natural disaster against which the Haiti earthquake is compared to again and again is post Tsunami Aceh.  But is this fair?  Jakarta was not levelled by the Tsunami and the central government, with its capacity and resources, was able to coordinate a robust response.  Perhaps other comparisons would be more meaningful.


Cluster Approach:  Three clusters, notably Health, Food, and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) performed well.  Why did others fall short?  Many suffered from staff rotation and disorganization.  Haitians were disempowered by the cluster approach in that meetings were not held in accessible locations and French/Kreyol interpretation was not the norm  As a result, responders missed out on important local knowledge about stakeholders and social structures.  It is not too late to fix this.


Coordination:  While improvements in government capacity were made in the year prior to the earthquake, its ability to be a steward of the many different actors in country (local and international NGOs, UN Agencies, faith based groups, etc.) was limited.  After the earthquake, hundreds of well-intentioned organizations with little experience in disaster response swooped into Haiti.  Many did not know about, participate in, or report into the Cluster System, which made knowing who was doing what where difficult. How to best coordinate new actors?


Decentralization:  There is still not a legislative framework for devolving decision making authority to the provinces.  Presently, decision making authority is hyper-centralized in Port au Prince. When can such a framework be expected? 


Diaspora:  Haiti also needs legislative action to encourage the Diaspora to return, to contribute their expertise and to invest.  Dual citizenship would facilitate this but any Constitutional changes are controversial, even in the best of times.  Is President Preval willing to take a risk before his term finishes?


Displacement:  At one point, over 600,000 of the displaced returned to the countryside and secondary cities.  Providing food assistance and livelihood support to friends/families would have dramatically improved their ability to host the displaced, especially in regions that were already food insecure. The response outside of Port au Prince and parts of the south was poor.  Ultimately, many of the displaced felt they had three choices: Return to Port au Prince, go to the Dominican Republic, or take a boat to anywhere.  Many have returned to Port au Prince and moved into the camps.  Others from slums have also moved into the camps for the services not available in their own communities.  For these reasons, the IDP settlements continue to grow in size.  


Donor Support:   Donors promised $5.3 billion at a conference two months after the earthquake.  Two percent of the pledges have turned into actual contributions.  Brazil, Norway, Estonia, and Australia are the only countries to have provided contributions.  The United States has pledged over a billion (as has Venezuela) but neither country has delivered yet.  For the United States, the funding cannot be delivered until a supplemental makes its way through Congress.  It is not clear when this will happen.  Turning pledges into actual contributions is an issue with every conflict or natural diaster. 


Health: This response is an opportunity for Cubans, Brazilians, Americans, and Haitians to come together and work toward common goals.  Paul Farmer has been charged with developing the Haitian health care system.  Unfortunately, free health care over an extended period of time has effectively shut down a large segment of the health care system.  Like many developing countries, a large portion of services was developed by the private sector.  A major part of improving the heath care sector will be allowing public hospitals in the provinces to hire and fire their own staff as needed, something they cannot do now.


Infrastructure:  More lives would have been saved if Haiti had a secondary airport that could have landed cargo planes with emergency goods and staff to enter the country.  Venezuela has said they will build such an airport outside of Cap Haitien but, to my knowledge,  the project has not yet begun.  Such an airport would also be an asset for promoting tourism in the north.  Haiti needs the jobs, particularly outside of Port au Prince.


Interim Haiti Recovery Commission:  The IHRC is still staffing up.  It needs good managers.  Will it improve coordination among all the different actors or will it be a major bottleneck for project approval?


Land:  Land was a development issue prior to the earthquake and it became an emergency response issue after.  It is often not clear who rightfully owned which plots of land.  This is a source of tension that occasionally erupts in conflict.  The government was been slow in appropriating land for new camps where better shelter could be built.  Private land owners are reluctant to let humanitarian responders dig latrines or drainage canals on their property.  The displaced who were sheltering in public facilities such as the stadiums and schools sometimes found themselves subject to forced eviction.  The Organization of American States (OAS) has offered to help Haiti develop a proper land registry, but completion will take years. 


Protection:  If the Cluster Approach were called as a result of conflict, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would be responsible for coordinating protection efforts.  Because this was a natural disaster, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had that responsibility.  UNHCR is highly operational while OHCHR is not.  Other organizations play important roles in protection.  UNICEF is responsible for child protection while UNFPA and UNICEF are responsible for coordinating efforsts to prevent and respond to gender based violence.  To any extent, there was insufficient protection staff/expertise on the ground.  As a result, gender based violence in the IDP sites was addressed much too late.


Reconstruction:  On July 12, six months after the earthquake, President Preval stated that Haiti had entered the reconstruction phase.  Meanwhile, three hundred camps in the Corail camp were destroyed by a storm.  Security in the camps is poor and the gangs are trying to reestablish themselves.  How does one recognize that the transition from relief to development is taking place beyond public ceremonies?  We are just one heavy rainstorm from being back in full emergency mode.


Shelter:  The Haitian government was overwhelmed with hundreds of pitches for different shelter prototypes.  There seems to a growing consensus that many of the displaced will be in transitional shelter for years.  This points to the need for better guidance on transitional shelter – how to make it transitional instead of becoming permanent (which often happens.) Whatever designs the government selects for longer term shelter, I hope they are not made of wood.  Haiti has very little forest cover left and would need to import most of it.


Urbanization: It was painfully clear that the international humanitarian community was not prepared to respond to a major urban disaster.  Given that the world is urbanizing, we are likely to see more disasters that take place in city.  What knowledge and tools do we need to do better next time?


Vulnerable Children:  Even prior to the earthquake, there were many vulnerable children throughout Haiti.  Vulnerable children are not limited to orphans.  They include restaveks, mostly girls, of which there will be many more as a result of the earthquake.  Many "orphans" in Haiti have family.   With livelihood opportunities, vulnerable families would be able to meet the basic needs and thoes of extended families.  This also drives home the importance of access to family planning in Haiti, so that parents have only as many children as they want and can care for.  A government policy on the restavek issue is sorely needed as well.


There are several other good websites where you can track emergency response/reconstruction efforts in Haiti.  One Response/Haiti is an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) site that contains maps, statistics, situation reports, and sectoral updates. Reliefweb, also run by OCHA, is updated each day with fact sheets and updates from donors and non governmental organizations.  The Haitian government has established a Haiti Reconstruction Platform which will hopefully be updated on a regular basis.  The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) website is also up.  Finally, consider joining Corbett's List - a very active listserv with the latest news and happenings concerning Haiti.


It has been six months since the earthquake.  Are there other issues you feel deserve more attention going forward?  Please feel free to post in the comments section below. Thanks!


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