Aid agencies urge Canada not to forget ravaged nation

Jan 9, 2012--The following article is published today throughout the Postmedia news chain in Canada. The article appears in the National Post, one of two national dailies in Canada, and in daily papers in major cities across the country, including the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Calgary Herald and both Vancouver daily newspapers. The article cites extensively the views of the Canada Haiti Action Network as well as the participants in the June 2011 Canadian Delegation to Haiti.

To read the report of the Delegation, the recent letter addressed to the delegation by Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and recent letters by CHIP members to members of Parliament, go to this page on the CHIP website.

By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News, January 9, 2012

Earthquake-shattered Haiti at turning point, aid groups say

By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News, January 9, 2012

Two years after a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, killing 316,000 and initially leaving 1.5 million in displaced-persons camps around the nation's capital, UNICEF and many other big aid agencies are urging Canadians and others not to forget the ravaged country.

With half a million Haitians still living in tent camps in and around Port-au-Prince, and cholera epidemics continuing to threaten the country, aid organizations released a report Monday saying they believe they're nearing a turning point in reconstruction efforts.

But, amid the calls for more help some critics say that Canada should probe more deeply to find out exactly where aid money has gone before committing new funds.

The ongoing aid effort has included thousands of non-governmental organizations from around the world — leading observers to call Haiti "the republic of NGOs."

In that climate, it has been difficult to track where exactly the money is being used, said Roger Annis of the Canada Haiti Action Network.

"It's really hard to quantify what's happening in Haiti because there's an absence of real, concrete facts and statistics — if you want to find out, you have to go there and see for yourself," said Annis, who was part of a three-person delegation which travelled to Haiti's earthquake zone in June 2011.

"The overarching story is that everything is going at a snail's pace," he said.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to support Haiti as it rebuilt, both with emergency funds and long-term aid.

To date, Canada has spent $232 million on Canadian International Development Agency-approved projects such as health services (including cholera vaccinations), clean water projects, government institutions, police training, and infrastructure aid.

Most recently, on Dec. 23, 2011, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda committed up to $2.4 million over three years, for a Habitat for Humanity Canada collaboration with its Haitian counterpart. Oda's office said the money will support small construction businesses to meet demand for housing and related infrastructure, and will create jobs.

In a status report released Monday, UNICEF representative Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans writes: "There is evidence of little victories everywhere, but serious gaps and inadequacies in Haiti's basic governance structures remain."

That could be because only half of the $4.5 billion that world leaders promised to donate to the disaster-stricken nation in 2010 and 2011, has actually been disbursed, according to the United Nations office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, which tracks pledges and donations from each country.

For its part, the special envoy website shows Canada has disbursed 90 per cent of the funds pledged since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

But questions linger about whether the influx of aid dollars have been spent effectively, as the country continues to struggle to provide its citizens with the basic necessities for life.

In a 17-page report submitted to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in September 2011, Annis and his colleagues wrote about the persistent housing and shelter crisis, with more than half a million people still living in displaced-persons camps in and around Port-au-Prince with delays stemming from a disorganized national housing office. The delegation visited six displaced-persons camps, the largest of which had 50,000 residents.

"Toilets have been constructed in large numbers, but facilities for washing are limited. Food and water provision is inadequate. Violence within the camp, especially sexual violence against women, is a very serious problem. Security provision is entirely inadequate," said the report.

"There are more and more people who are questioning how aid and charity gets used to reinforce the structures of dominance and underdevelopment that cause the problem in the first place," he said. "That's what I think we're seeing today in post-earthquake Haiti."

In an email dated Jan. 5, 2012, Baird replied to the delegation. "There have been some encouraging developments since you visited Haiti," wrote Baird. He listed some of Canada's contributions to the aid effort, including the provision of emergency food aid to 4.3 million Haitians; water and sanitation services to 1.3 million Haitians; emergency and temporary housing to 370,000 households, and a supply of trained medical professionals for 330,000 women during childbirth.

But, speaking from Vancouver, Annis said Baird "provided a blurry of facts and figures that don't really speak to what's actually being accomplished on the ground."

In fact, Annis cited a December interview with The Canadian Press in which Baird said the Canadian government was "very troubled" with the pace of relief and reconstruction in Haiti and in which he was critical of the performance of the Haitian government.

Baird wrote to Annis that the government was "pleased" that the rule of law features among newly elected Haitian President Michel Martelly's mandate, and that "democratic governance and the rule of law in Haiti are essential for sustainable development and security to take hold."

During his campaign early last year, right-leaning Martelly also promised significant agricultural investment, lodging for citizens still living in tent camps and free education for all children in a country where 80 per cent pay for schooling and only one in four makes it past Grade 6.

Annis agrees that a strong national government, focused on social development, agriculture and public education, is essential for Haiti's long-term success, but he says Martelly's government is already facing allegations of corruption. Further, after being sworn in, in May 2011, it took nearly six months before he confirmed his prime minister and cabinet in October.

There are two ways of explaining the continuing housing crisis in Haiti, said Annis: "One is to say that the problem is so large and so complicated that we're doing the best we can."

"The other way" — and the one Annis would argue — "is that it's a failure of the international aid effort, and a failure of the Martelly government (that the large countries of the world have been propping up and supporting) to act decisively on the issue."

For his part, UNICEF Canada CEO David Morley says he sees 2012 as a turning point in the relief and reconstruction effort. He said UNICEF is working closely with local governments and smaller organizations to provide tools for Haitians to move forward.

"I know sometimes, as foreigners, we can make the mistake of coming in and being too exuberant 'cause we want immediate change. But, we have to be careful, because we can inadvertently disenfranchise the locals and, in the end, it's not going to be outsiders who make long-lasting change: it's going to be, and it's got to be, Haitians making sustainable change for themselves."

"The world has had its eyes opened to Haiti like never before, so the potential for change is present, like never before," said Annis, who said, despite the obvious challenges in Haiti, there is still reason for optimism.

"I think the real challenge is to think long term," said Morley.

"People were very generous — both institutionally and individually — following the earthquake and there were lots of resources available. But, dealing with emergencies and humanitarian situations is costly business — those resources have been put to good use, but are no longer available. What's important now is to make sure that Haiti is not forgotten. We've got to continue to support the government and the people to improve the quality of life for everyone." © Copyright (c) Postmedia News