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Voices

Column: Rebuilding a shattered country – Haiti, five years later

The poorest country in the western hemisphere was brought to its knees in 2010, but now it has other threats to deal with amid the efforts to rebuild.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

FIVE YEARS SINCE a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, the country’s reconstruction has seen much progress, but so much more remains to be done.

On January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake killed over 220,000 people, injured more than 300,000, and 1.5 million lost their homes. It also destroyed vital infrastructure, including government and commercial buildings, hospitals, schools and roads.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Before the earthquake, the situation was difficult, but we had started to see growth. The earthquake set us back more than 20 years.

Painstakingly rebuilding a shattered country 

Many schools, hospitals, government buildings, roads and other infrastructure have been rebuilt. A new education strategy has resulted in more children going to school, though Haiti still has one of the world’s lowest enrolment rates.

The country’s burgeoning private sector has seen increased investment. Irish-owned telecomm company Digicel, is one of the international companies that have invested in the private sector, and are also supporting development projects. Haitians who used to live overseas are returning and are investing in the country, which is a good sign.

Tourism has evolved a lot in Haiti. Visitor numbers have increased from less than 1,000 a year pre-earthquake, to over 2,000 in the last five years and it is growing.

More hotels have been built in the past few years and many I would encourage people to come and visit Haiti. It is a beautiful island and a boost in tourism would fuel our development. Investment in sectors like tourism, business, renewable energy, natural resources and agribusiness will also create more jobs and tax revenue for Haiti.

The majority of Haitians are still trapped in desperate poverty 

Although much has been achieved, the international community must not become complacent about the pace of progress or the outstanding needs.

The fact is many Haitians continue to live in a desperate situation. The majority are trapped in poverty, with little access to basic services. More than 85,000 are still displaced, living in temporary camps. The country needs investment to build around 30,000 new houses a year for the next decade in order to deal with the housing problem.

Local Christian Aid partners have built more than 550 earthquake-resistant houses to date, mainly in the rural areas, in line with the Haitian government’s reconstruction strategy. Our work is not simply about providing decent houses. Our partners have helped over 32,000 people earn a living by proving seeds, tools, and livestock for farmers, as well as loans and business training to traders. As a result they are able to earn a living in the countryside, do not feel compelled to move back to the capital, Port-au-Prince.

There are still many barriers to long-term development, including past and present political instability, environmental degradation, vulnerability to natural disasters and weak governance. At a time when many institutional donors and NGOs have reduced their funding for Haiti’s development, the country urgently needs more investment in health, education, agriculture, environment, infrastructure, security and tourism.

Haitian involvement vital to success of rebuilding – and avoiding the ‘mining resource curse’

The devastation from the earthquake prompted a generous global response in aid and donations by governments and private citizens. This aid continues to play a significant part in the reconstruction and development of Haiti.

However, a lack of trust in the ability of the Haitian people and institutions to rebuild their country is limiting the effectiveness of development. The international institutions need to work towards building local capacity so Haitians are more involved in determining the priorities and objectives, and in implementing reconstruction and development projects.

Over the last five years a few mining companies have undertaken exploration in the hills north of Haiti where it has been claimed exists an estimated $20 billion worth in gold, copper and silver. There are increasing concerns that, while the mining sector has potential wealth for Haiti, the risk of the costs to local communities, of opening this sector to investment, may outweigh the benefits.

For instance, the mining sector is still operating under an obsolete 1976 mining law. In addition, the lack of transparency and clear procedures in the awarding the exploration rights and contracts has turned people’s concerns to anger. If the right procedures and relevant laws are not in place to regulate this sector, Haiti could suffer the resource curse as has happened in other mineral rich developing countries around the world.

Haitians have made remarkable strides since January 2010. While I am optimistic about our future, this fifth anniversary comes at a time of political unrest. Recent weeks have seen public demonstrations over the failure of the administration to hold long-anticipated elections.

The situation is tense. I hope our leaders will resolve the political crisis and find the best solution for the Haitian people. Otherwise, this situation could undo all the good work that has been achieved over the last five years.

It has been a challenging five years. While Haiti will continue to need foreign assistance for another 15-20 years, we want to work towards a point where the country is not reliant on overseas aid. This is possible.

Prospery Raymond is the Christian Aid Country Manager for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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