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Letter to PJ Patterson, Caricom's representative to the Montreal Conference on Haiti

BY NORMAN GIRVAN

Wednesday, January 27, 2010    

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CONGRATULATIONS on your appointment as Caricom's representative on the committee organising the international conference for the reconstruction of Haiti being held in Montreal, Canada. Your experience with Haiti while being Jamaica's prime minister will be an invaluable asset in bringing a much-needed perspective that respects the Haitian people's own capabilties, leadership and initiative and the sovereignty of Haiti in the relief and rebuilding efforts.

I have been following events closely and wish to share the following observations with you.

* While we must commend the speed and generosity of the international response to the Haitian disaster, we should also recognise that the international community, as a donor to Haiti over more than two decades, also bears responsibility for ill-conceived and poorly conducted development, political interference, and unfulfilled promises in Haiti.

* I support the view that on this occasion the reconstruction of the country should be carried out in a way that is effective and accountable to all Haitians and assigns to Haitians themselves the responsibility for identifying their immediate and long-term needs and for creating and strengthening the structures required.

* I would argue strongly against an approach that is "security-centred"; that militarises the relief and rehabilitation effort; and that undermines Haitian ownership, intiative, responsibility and sovereignty. Rather, it should be based on the principles of solidarity, respect for their rights and respect for their country's sovereignty.

Here are some specific recommendations developed by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Québec which I fully endorse as being consistent with the above principles.

International asistance should:

(1) Prioritise the delivery of humanitarian assistance by civilian agencies.

(2) Protect the rights of vulnerable populations.

(3) Ensure Haitian leadership, ownership and decision-making.

(4) Focus on ending poverty.

Prioritise delivery of humanitarian assistance by civilian agencies

The challenges posed by the current operating environment in Haiti are huge, but reports indicate that aid efforts have been impeded by lack of access to airports and the slow delivery of supplies into the disaster site. The delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance by civilian agencies should be considered the highest priority. There needs to be:

* A clear delineation of roles between civilian aid workers and military personnel involved in the relief effort. Military forces currently on the ground are providing crucial logistical and operational support, while civilian agencies have the experience and expertise needed to deliver assistance. Assistance currently being provided by military personnel should be handed over to civilian agencies as soon as possible, leaving the military to focus on providing logistical and operational support.

* Highest priority assigned to civilian humanitarian supplies for the arrival, off-loading and dispatching of cargo at Haiti's airports, ports and land borders.

* Coordination of relief operations should be the responsibility of the UN and the Haitiian authorities, and should be carried out in a way that rebuilds and strengthens the capacity of Haitian instituutions.

Ensure Haitian leadership, ownership, decision-making

Haitians themselves were first responders to the earthquake. Although local organisations have been affected by the earthquake, the considerable capacity and skills of Haitians themselves must be respected and included in relief efforts. Accordingly, foreign countries and international agencies should:

* Work to ensure Haitians themselves, wherever possible, are leading relief and reconstruction efforts.

* Fund Haitian organisations, particularly women's groups, in relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

* Seek opportunities for including the Haitian diaspora in relief and recovery efforts, particularly those with French and Creole language skills.

* Prioritise the rebuilding of Haitian government ministries and departments responsible for providing basic services.

Support Haitian community-driven efforts to improve the educational, food security and livelihood status of Haitian citizens.

Protect rights of vulnerable civilians

Haiti's vulnerable populations will require special protection measures. Thirty-six per cent of Haiti's population is under 15. People with disabilities, including those newly disabled by the earthquake, will find it difficult to access food, water and shelter. Women and girls are at an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Donors, international agencies and civil society should:

* Ensure the principles of impartiality, neutrality, independence, and humanity guide the ongoing relief effort and that humanitarian and development activities are consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law.

* Prioritise the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, the disabled, elderly, women and girls, and ensure that their needs and priorities are addressed in the planning for Haiti's recovery, reconstruction, and longer-term development. To this end:

* Ensure shelter and emergency camps are planned and built with disability access in mind.

* Include people with disabilities and organisations focused on disability rights in all initiatives and stages of relief, recovery, reconstruction, and longer-term development planning.

* Establish rapid response mechanisms and measures to ensure the rights of all Haitian children are protected with priorities on preventing child trafficking and a moratorium on new international adoptions.

* Encourage all countries contributing to MINUSTAH to train their personnel on preventing, protecting, and responding to sexual and gender-based violence prior to their deployment.

Ending poverty

Poverty and fragility in Haiti is multi-faceted and includes significant tensions between a wealthier elite and poorer Creole-speaking parts of the population. Much of Haiti's GDP is allocated to annual debt service payments amounting to some US$60-US$80 million a year, limiting Haiti's capacity to invest in its own development. Real and sustained recovery and reconstruction will not be possible without addressing Haiti's longer-term development, environmental and governance issues. We should press for:

* The immediate cancellation of all bilateral and multilateral debt owed by Haiti.

* The IMF to immediately convert the US$100 million emergency loan to Haiti into a grant provided without any conditions.

* Ensuring that longer-term assistance addresses both the immediate and structural causes of poverty in Haiti while working to provide relief and reconstruction to areas directly affected by the earthquake.

* Continuing to provide development aid to parts of the country not impacted by the earthquake, but still vulnerable to poverty.

* Supporting environmental programmes spanning the recovery-to-development spectrum aimed at agriculture and reforestation.

I strongly support the view that Haiti needs to be rebuilt "from the bottom up". International donors and the Group of Friends of Haiti must ensure the voices and the perspectives of Haiti's poor are heard and their rights respected. Haitian ownership and leadership, through the government, civil society, the diaspora, and the majority - women and men, girls and boys living in poverty, must be central in all efforts.

norman.girvan@gmail.com

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