Forum On Haiti Reconstruction Reveals A Lot More Work To Do

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By Barrington M. Salmon
Special To News Americas

News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Mon. Oct. 3, 2011: The rebuilding of those parts of Haiti torn asunder by a massive earthquake is moving slowly but the Haiti Ambassador to the U.S. is optimistic on the recovery.

Some 20 months after a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas, millions of residents still have no idea where their next meal is coming from; women and young girls are routinely exposed to rape, abuse and assaults; and cholera continues to plague the capital, claiming thousands of victims and infecting more than 400,000 Haitians.

About 700,000 men, women and children still live in tents cities which lack electricity and running water, and only 40 percent of the 19 million cubic meters of rubble has been removed from the streets of Port-Au-Prince.

This, despite the fact that the country has received $10 billion in pledges from international donors to rebuild. Sheena Townsend recently returned from a visit to the land of her mother’s birth.

“I was in disbelief at the earthquake. I saw pictures and videos but I wasn’t aware of the level of devastation,” said Townsend, 27, a lawyer and student. “Based on what I know, it’s not going well. People are still living in tents, there is no electricity and water issues are prevalent … It doesn’t seem like much has changed. There needs to be more organization. Money is coming in but you don’t see where it’s going. It’s kind of like a headless body.”

Haitian Ambassador to the U.S., Louis Joseph, insists a “massive influx of capital and experts” is needed to rebuild Haiti.

“From an economic standpoint, the country’s potential for economic development has dwindled,” Joseph told listeners at the Hilton Hotel in Silver Spring, MD., recently, as he presented a Report on the Reconstruction of Haiti. “How do we build in such a situation when the government has decreased? It is only possible with a massive influx of capital and experts while respecting Haitian sovereignty.”

Joseph said delegates at a conference for Haitian reconstruction at the United Nations in New York in June of 2010 articulated a new vision of Haiti. They are working to create a decentralized country that is modern, strong, diverse and inclusive, he said.

With $3.5 billion allocated so far, the International Office for Migration has overseen the removal of half the people living in tent cities back to their homes. In addition, 250,000 Haitians have been hired and $20 million has been injected into the local economy.

The lecture and discussion was hosted by the Caribbean American Intercultural Organization (CAIO) and the National Association for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) as a means to inform the local Caribbean community.

“It is an important topic and a topic important for all of us,” said Margaret Forde, president of CAIO, a volunteer-driven, non-profit, non-partisan organization that is celebrating its 53rd year.

Dr. Joseph Baptiste, a U.S. Army Colonel and dentist, showed a slide presentation depicting Haiti before and after the devastation.

In it, attendees saw a Port au Prince of wide vistas and clean streets; vendors behind stalls laden with fruits and vegetables; lines of palm trees on a beach blown by a stiff wind; the white-washed palace of justice; verdant, rolling hills; multi-storied villas and mansions nestled in the mountains; a man rafting down a lazy river; a young boy leaning against the broad root of a palm tree; groups of people on a sidewalk engrossed in conversation; churches; azure waters; beaches; and young men playing soccer at the national stadium.

The aftermath is stark and jarring: a solitary white sneaker; a child in tears; hundreds of people huddled in the middle of a street; anguished faces of Haitians holding candles at a prayer vigil; a woman covered in fine white dust; a dusty, white arm held tightly as someone pulls up a victim; buildings gone awry; a wooden coffin sticking out of a truck bed; a grieving man holding a dead baby; prosthetics on a table; thin, black crosses stretching out into the horizon; women, arms outstretched, eyes raised toward the sky; a crooked single wall of what was once a factory standing against the sky; flattened buildings, cracked structures, jagged walls and chaos hanging in the air.

The images of destruction drew a collective gasp from the crowd.

“The (presidential) palace was a symbol of power in Haiti,” said Baptiste. “It being toppled helped us realize how bad things were.”

Jean-Michel Voltaire was animated as he asked a question about Haitians living abroad and became visibly agitated as he offered a prelude to his question and listened to the answer.

“The Diaspora has been excluded from the government. There is no contribution from people living overseas. The Haitian government likes money from Haitian Diaspora but not its ideas.”

Ambassador Joseph sounded apologetic.

“The answer is not really hard. Every politician and every segment of society understands the importance of the Diaspora,” he said. “We have a tiny or no middle class in Haiti but we have a middle class in the Diaspora. If we want to develop the country, we must be inclusive. We have to work with the Diaspora. Government, businesses, schools understand that. In our constitution, it is clear that we want to take steps to incorporate the Diaspora into the country.”

Joseph said the parliament under former President Rene Preval voted for such a measure but the language and text voted on was not published in newspapers.

“I am not satisfied,” said Voltaire, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. “Haitians are two-faced. Did you think the publishing of the wrong text was an accident? Of course not.”

Baptiste offered a detailed schematic of the development plan for Haiti’s resurrection.

The Interim Haitian Recovery Commission (IHRC) was created to coordinate the efforts of the international community, he said. The commission operates with transparency as it produces a coordinated, efficient, effective plan which has integrity, accountability while enhancing the government’s capacity.

“The priority is on investments, promoting partnerships, leveraging stakeholder resources, open communications and the collecting and storing of information,” said Baptiste.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellarive and President Clinton are co-chairs of the 30-member commission. Half of the members are from the international community and the other half are Haitian.

When Baptiste said members of the international community must pledge $100 million to be a part of the board, several people in the audience shook their head in astonishment.

“It is developing a plan of action that was needed yesterday,” he said. “We’re always reacting on an emergency basis. We haven’t come out of the emergency phase yet with hurricanes and cholera.”

Housing is the number one priority. In addition, the IHRC has built 250 temporary structures for schools, built an additional 60 schools, fed 500,000 children, provided half a million children with manuals and kits, as well as financial assistance for another half a million. The commission is responsible for building 75 hospitals and 40 clinics, and is working on increasing the availability of potable water from two percent to 50 percent of the population and is training health care professionals.

All this progress notwithstanding, several participants expressed a variety of concerns after the forum.

“Some very important issues have been raised as it relates to whether there is a grip on reconstruction,” said former Grenadian Ambassador Denis Antoine. “It’s Haiti versus the international community. The issue of non-governmental organizations not contributing to capacity building is a critical one. There is no training and no individuals put in place. This was devoid of project management by locals. There is a lack of ‘of the people’ and a lot of good intentions ‘for the people.’ But good intentions much be managed.

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