Haiti Earthquake Update (5/9/2010)

  • Posted on: 9 May 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

The transition from emergency relief to reconstruction is happening, albeit slowly.  It won’t be easy and there will be setbacks, particularly given that the rainy season is upon us along with the risks it brings of flooding, mudslides, infectious diseases, and infrastructure damage.  Engineers have completed emergency mitigation measures at six of the most vulnerable settlements to protect the most vulnerable, but much remains to be done.


In terms of the big picture, the Haitian government is still trying to get back on its feet.  They lost a third of their civil servants, most Ministry buildings, and the National Palace during the earthquake.  The United States has provided its former embassy building to the Haitian government, where the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Planning now operate.  A Command Center has been constructed on the grounds of the National Palace but it will not be operationally until early June.  It will house the Offices of the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, as well as the Bureau of Taxation.


Land was a source of tension before the earthquake, during the emergency response, and if unresolved, it will remain so during the reconstruction.  Only five percent of Haiti’s land is registered and ownership is often unclear.  There is not an accountable and effective mechanism for addressing land disputes in Haiti.  In response, the Organization of American States (OAS) has agreed to help the Haitian government to title 100% of land over the next seven years.


Some private land owners have been pressuring the displaced to leave their properties.  In many neighborhoods, the displaced are residing in schools.  In some of these neighborhoods, community members have also been pressuring the displaced to leave as they want their children to resume their educations as soon as possible.  Forced evictions have occurred.  The government declared a moratorium on IDP evictions from schools on April 28 although an official document to that end was never released.  The government is now negotiating with private land owners to build and maintain additional settlements on their properties for pre-determined periods of time.


The Haitian government does not want the settlements to become permanent slums.  While exact numbers are difficult to come by, most agree that a number of people living in the camps were not victims of the earthquake so much as victims of abject poverty.  In other words, there is evidence that the services available in these camps (water, health care, etc.) act as a magnet for people in neighborhoods such as Cite Soleil where access to basic services is very limited.  The fact that these settlements seem like a step up is indicative of how sorely in need of development the slums of Port au Prince are.


What we will likely see going forward are services becoming less camp based and more community oriented.  Services will probably shift to communities near/around the camps as opposed to in the camps themselves.  This should also help to support neighborhoods that were damaged in the earthquake.  The Haitian government now needs to articulate its vision for addressing the needs of the displaced – both those in Port au Prince as well as the upwards of 600,000 individuals who are staying with friends and families throughout the country. The secondary cities and countryside have been neglected for decades and opportunities to work and study are limited.  There is some evidence that those who went to their communities of origin are beginning to return to Port au Prince for the same reason that they went there in the first place - because that is where the jobs are.  More attention and resources are needed to help host families, with food and livelihoods in particular, so that they can continue to care for friends and family.  Many of these host families were food insecure before the earthquake and their ability to host is not limitless.  The success of the harvest will likely play an important role in determining how long.


The Preval Administration had made some progress in clamping down on the drug trade in Haiti.  I am worried that the most neglected parts of the country now risk becoming narco-regions.  It is not a coincidence that long forgotten Port de Paix is such an active trans-shipment point for drugs.  Without economic opportunities, the same could happen in Northern Haiti and elsewhere. When drug dealers have more power than the politicians, or when the politicians are drug dealers, development becomes a real challenge.


The Haitian government and the United Nations are conducting a structural assessment of buildings throughout Port au Prince. Over 54,000 buildings, churches, schools, police stations, and other structures have been evaluated so far.  Forty two percent of assessed buildings so far are safe for habitation, thirty two percent could be made safe with repairs, and twenty six percent were unsafe and require demolition.  By end May, over 100,000 structures will have been evaluated at which point assessments outside of Port au Prince will begin.


If you’ve noticed green spray point on a building in Port au Prince, that means it was determined to be safe.  Yellow is for buildings that were damaged. The yellow buildings are subdivided into those which require only minor repairs to be habitable, those which require moderate repairs, and finally those which require advanced skills/equipment to rehabilitate.  If a building is marked for demolition, that raises the question of who should do it and who should remove the rubble.  The ambiguity is a disenctive for owners to reconstruct.


Many of the buildings marked green remain unoccupied.   Some families prefer to be in the settlements where services are presently located.  Some do not want to go back until their friends and neighbors do.  Others are understandably traumatized and afraid to sleep within their residences.  Many have lost their jobs and can no longer afford rent.  Still, the assessment seems to have built confidence.  The United Nations reports that approximately half of the houses classified as safe have become occupied following release of assessment results.  The rest of those whose housing has been identified as habitable will likely move back when heavy rains become regular occurences.


According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 49% of people registered in spontaneous settlements in the Port-au-Prince area as of April 26 were renters prior to the earthquake, while approximately 37% of individuals owned houses. The remaining 14% of displaced individuals did not clearly identify whether they rented or owned houses.  Renters are not going to clear the rubble from land they do not own.  Owners are not going to pay for (very expensive) rubble removal if they think that squatters are going to take over their property once completed.


Cash for work programs are a critical for helping families and communities to recover.  However, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports that relief organizations are experiencing difficulties working with mayors’ offices on Cash for Work (CFW) activities and rubble removal from schools.  Some local authorities are demanding that agencies employ specific individuals for CFW activities or seek kickbacks from wages provided to beneficiaries.  Some NGOs have been forced to halt operations until disputes can be resolved.  Building local governance capacity and accountability will be key to long term recovery.


On May 2nd the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) organized a cross sectoral shelter working group.  This should have happened sooner.  Security, protection, health, livelihoods, and long-term recovery depend on shelter.  The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) continues to play a lead role in providing emergency shelter materials to the displaced.


From a health perspective, acute respiratory infections are the more commonly reported illnesses among the displaced.  Some NGOs report increases in suspected malaria.  No diseases are above what what would normally be expected for this time of year.  In April, the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MoSPP) announced the extension of free access to medicine and services until mid-July.  OCHA reported that as of April 23, more than 116,000 long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets (LLIN) had been distributed to earthquake affected populations.  Haitians do not have a long tradition of using mosquito nets.  Awareness raising campaigns will be required to encourage their retention and use.  The MENTOR Initiative is coordinating efforts to control vector borne diseases such as malaria in Port au Prince.  As of mid-April, the MENTOR Initiative had trained nearly 300 health workers and volunteers working on the prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of vector-borne diseases.


OCHA reports that the primary protection concern remains the safety of children during the process of relocating displaced families from spontaneous to planned settlements.  Humanitarian agencies have registered more than 1,200 separated children and continue to trace 278 families. The U.N. has established a Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) core group in Haiti to coordinate and oversee prevention of sexual violence by relief organization personnel.


The Haitian Government plans to release its 2010 Hurricane Season Contingency Plan on May 15, with the expectation that  humanitarian partners with individual preparedness plans will adhere to the GoH framework.  The GoH Department of Civil Protection (DPC) is participating in a joint effort with humanitarian agencies to  inventory relief supplies in-country to determine available resources for response.


From a high of 22,000 troops, the U.S. military operation is now down to 1,300 troops.  As of June 1, the Louisiana National Guard will be in charge of a 500-person contingent, based in Gonaives.  Other National Guard units will rotate in every two weeks from Nevada, Montana, Arizona, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  Last month, the Seabees built retaining walls, carved out drainage canals and sponsored cash-for-work programs to clear garbage from culverts in nine camps at highest risk from flooding.


Spanish troops left Haiti after wrapping up a three-month mission. According to the Spanish government, the 450-strong contingent treated more than 8,300 Haitians and vaccinated some 21,000, removed tons of rubble from devastated homes and opened roads since arriving in late January.


Haiti remains politically fragile.  President Preval is scheduled to depart office on February 7th.  Hopefully, elections will happen before then.  As a contingency plan, Préval is asking parliament to allow him to remain in office three months longer if necessary.  This has been controversial, especially given a perceived lack of Haitian leadership in response to the quake. There is the possibility of opposition protests if the measure passes.  At this point, one cannot help but wonder who has the knowledge, skills, and political savvy to be the next Haitian president given the challenges ahead. 


The World Bank’s Special Envoy for Haiti, Alexandre Abrantes, said that he sees his assignment as a mission to help rebuild the Caribbean nation as a regional model for reconstruction. Abrantes stated that the pillars supporting this goal are good governance and strong community involvement.  His priorities are to help the Haitian government to better manage the risk of catastrophes, expand the nation's safety nets and rebuild the government's capacity to function efficiently while improving its governance long-term.  He hopes to apply Brazilian experience in social protection programs to Haiti.  For example, Brazil's Bolsa Familia Conditional Cash Transfer program (CCT) provides poor families with a basic income in exchange for their commitment to keeping their children in school and taking them to the doctor for regular checkups.  He holds a seat at the Trust Fund Steering Committee where the Bank ensures that projects are aligned with the government's overall reconstruction strategy. In overseeing the Multi Donor Trust Fund, the Bank also has oversight of financial decisions made.


According to long-time Haiti watcher Robert Maguire, this is a ‘defining moment’ in Haiti’s development, and for U.S. leadership and engagement.  He notes it affords an opportunity for the U.S. to engage a global consortium of donors and to work alongside a  diverse array of actors, including Central and South American countries, who are robustly engaged in Haiti.  As an example, the United States and Cuba (not exactly the closest of neighbords) communicated and cooperated during the earthquake response.  Had the U.S. government been aware of what Cuba was doing and where, we might have worked together more effectively.  You can read an interesting United States Institute of Peace (USIP) brief by Robert Maguire on the Haiti Donors Conference and the way ahead here.


The US Congress has passed a measure expanding duty-free access for Haitian textile and apparel goods.  It now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.  In a nutshell, the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act would expand duty-free access to the US market for additional Haitian textile and apparel exports and extend existing trade preference programs for Haiti through 2020.  Foreign direct investment would most help Haiti if it took place throughout Haiti and not just in Port au Prince where most factories have traditionally been located.


So many aspects of development in Haiti - environment, health, water, nutrition, livelihoods, women's rights - could have been considered emergencies even before the earthquake.  Reconstruction presents an opportunity to address these issues head on.  One of the challenges now is to incorporate the displaced into plans and strategies that will guide Haiti toward sustainable development.  It is going to take time, coordination and resources but there is still hope for a better future.




Note:  Photo provided courtesy of CNN 

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.