Three years after a violent earthquake left over 200,000 dead and more than two million homeless in Haiti, many critics believe that the largest destructive force that lingers is the degree to which Haitian self-determination and progress have been limited by outside forces that undermine local institutions.
“Haiti can be built back better," said Mario Joseph of the Port-au-Prince-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), "but only if it is built back more justly, with the Haitian people involved in the choice, the planning and the execution of the projects.”
One of the key ongoing issues in Haiti is the homelessness triggered by the earthquake.
It is tragic because it is easy to see how this could all be done differently.
According to the BAI, instead of targeting the cause of the problem, using available legal procedures such as eminent domain and working collaboratively with displaced persons, the international community and Haitian government have targeted camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) through illegal evictions and short term payoffs, without providing viable housing for such families.
“These are band-aid solutions to a fundamental problem,” said Brian Concannon from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the international arm of the BAI. “The problem of IDP camps sitting where journalists will see them is being solved; the problem of earthquake survivors with no homes is not.”
Since the earthquake, according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of people have been forced from the camps. The International Organization for Migrations reported that nearly 80,000 more people living primarily in camps set up on private land are currently at risk of eviction – 21 per cent of the total camp population.
“As if being exposed to insecurity, diseases and hurricanes were not enough, many people living in makeshifts camps are also living under the constant fear of being forcibly evicted,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says that the responsibility for the ongiong and woeful conditions in Haiti can be placed at the feet of a misguided reconstruction effort by international agencies.
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“The numbers are an indictment of how the international community has once again failed Haiti, in this case in its time of greatest need,” Weisbrot said. “The housing effort has been abysmal, people are facing a food crisis, and even worse, some of the very people supposedly in Haiti to help — U.N. troops — caused a cholera epidemic that has killed almost 8,000 people."
“Despite all of these urgent needs, the international community has disbursed only half of the $13.34 billion allocated by bilateral and multilateral donors for Haiti’s reconstruction,” he added.
Expanding on this idea, in an interview on Democracy Now!, Jonathan Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, told host Amy Goodman:
The problem [in Haiti] has... has been the problem that... affects foreign aid all over the world, in which donor countries avoid local governments, they avoid local institutions, they fund through their own agencies, their own NGOs, their own militaries, and that weakens institutions. And as a result, the institutions were already weak coming into the earthquake, so they had a very, very hard time responding on their own.
This idea was echoed by BAI/IJDH, who affirmed that "that progress in Haiti is achievable if Haitians are involved at all stages and the building is done on a foundation of justice."
Weisbrot condemned what has long been seen by many aid experts as one of the most damaging aspects of U.S. aid to Haiti: the circumvention of the Haitian government. “Despite vows to the contrary, the Haitian government has been further weakened through the rebuilding bonanza that followed the earthquake. The Haitian government was side-stepped as usual, getting just 1 percent of relief money, and Haitian contractors were also excluded, getting just 1.2 percent of USAID contracts.”
“It is tragic because it is easy to see how this could all be done differently,” Weisbrot said. “Hire local people and use local contractors as much as possible; buy products – including food – from within Haiti rather than importing them. Make the Haitian government a central partner in the effort, and always prioritize the needs of the Haitian people over everything else.”
Democracy Now!'s full interview with Jonathan Katz can be viewed here: