Toronto Star editorial on Haiti housing, Aug 2012

Donor fatigue hampers Haiti’s recovery

Editorial, Toronto Star, published on Monday, August 13, 2012

International donors pledged billions of dollars to help Haiti "build back better," breaking its cycle of dependency. Yet 2 1/2 years later, the fruits of an ambitious reconstruction promise are hard to find.

Hardscrabble. That’s the only way to describe life in Haiti, where people still struggle to rebuild shattered lives 2 ½ years after the earthquake that wrecked Port-au-Prince, killed 220,000 and left a million homeless. As the Star’s Catherine Porter wrote in this weekend’s World Weekly section of the Star, money is tight and donors are fatigued. Haiti is in danger of becoming an afterthought.

Unlike some, Canada is well on track to deliver the more than $1 billion in aid we promised from 2006 through this year. Given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to pare back the overall aid budget, the follow-through on Haiti is commendable. Others have reneged. Of the $12 billion donors pledged in earthquake relief, Haitians have seen barely half.

Moreover, even innovative Canadian projects, such as the $20 million cleanup of Champ de Mars square in the capital where 5,000 families camped out, go only so far. Ottawa’s $500 subsidy to help them relocate is enough to cover this year’s rent in modest digs. Other elements of the program provide jobs and skills training. But as Porter reports, many wonder how they will fare when that lifeline runs out. Cheap, solid housing remains scarce and pricey. Hundreds of thousands are still living in flimsy shelter in camps. Former U.S. ambassador to Haiti Raymond Joseph calls that a “horrendous” situation that indicts policy-makers and donors alike.

What’s the take-away? First, that Canada has a residual responsibility to Champ de Mars families and others who may still need help next year. We should be prepared to extend another year’s rent as needed, rather than see people forced from their new homes. Second, at donors’ meetings Canadian officials should press the case for building new homes at a far faster rate, and for repairing damaged ones that are salvageable. That would provide much-needed jobs, along with more shelter. There’s an urgent need as well to rebuild hydro, ports, water and sewage lines, and other basics.

Finally, the Harper government has the credibility to remind the world that it promised to help Haitians “build back better” from catastrophe. Haitians are eager to do their part. But they can’t get far on just half a helping hand.