Haiti, we’re sorry!
OUR relief at not receiving the full force of Tropical Storm Isaac has been tempered somewhat by news emerging yesterday that the storm was responsible for 19 deaths during its passage over our sister Caribbean nation of Haiti.
An Associated Press (AP) story said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste of Haiti’s Civil Protection Office gave the death toll in an interview on a private radio station, and that “some of the Haitians died because their homes fell on top of them”.
We had feared for Haiti and hoped that Isaac would have spared the country, given that it is still recovering from the deadly earthquake that mostly flattened Port-au-Prince in January 2010, leaving thousands of Haitians still living in tents. We can’t begin to imagine the trauma they must have experienced over the weekend during the storm’s passage.
Isaac’s visit has returned focus to the reconstruction effort in Haiti which took a major step last week with the start of the demolition of the presidential palace.
That effort, we are told, is receiving assistance from American actor Mr Sean Penn and was described by President Michel Martelly as the commencement of the reconstruction of public buildings.
“We must start with the national palace because it is a symbol,” President Martelly is quoted by the international media as saying. He was also reported as saying that it would take three months to demolish what is left of the building.
We can appreciate the importance of reconstructing public buildings, given that state agencies need to be able to function effectively for the benefit of the population. However, we can’t see the need for priority to be given to the presidential palace. The Haitian authorities may want to revisit that plan, unless of course, it houses critical state agencies.
We are, however, still concerned that the reconstruction has been moving at a snail’s pace, as we have learnt that projects such as permanent housing and electric plants in Portau-Prince are not yet off the ground.
There was much hope, we remember, in the call to action “Build back better”, coined after the earthquake and under which the international community pledged US$10 billion.
But that zeal was diminished through political instability in Haiti and a lack of coordinated leadership between Port-au-Prince and Washington, DC.
Last month, the AP reported that: “Of the US$988 million spent so far, a quarter went toward debt relief; less than 12 per cent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure; half of the US$1.8 billion that the Americans promised for rebuilding is still in the US Treasury; and despite State Department promises to keep spending public, some members of Congress and watchdogs say they aren’t getting detailed information about how the millions are being spent, as dozens of contractors working for the US Government in Haiti leave a complex money trail.”
That is not very encouraging information, and the former US ambassador to Haiti, Mr Brian Curran, was spot on in his analysis of the situation. “The concept of build back better is a good one, but we were way over-optimistic about the pace we could do it,” he is reported as telling the AP.
It seems to us therefore that what is needed is a systematic development plan with dates set against targets and a commitment from all concerned for transparency in how the funds are allocated and spent.