Quake reconstruction comes to standstill

By Peter Beaumont

The reconstruction of Haiti has virtually ground to a halt, six months after a devastating earthquake killed 230,000 people and made 1.5 million more homeless in the most impoverished country in the Americas.

Despite pledges of US$5.3 billion ($7.4 billion) from the international community over the next two years to rebuild Haiti's ruined infrastructure, only a tiny fraction has so far been delivered, as aid agencies and donor countries complain that Haiti's Government has not provided the necessary blueprint for recovery.

The reconstruction effort was described in a report by Senator John Kerry to Congress last month as stalled amid a lack of leadership and disagreements among donors and disorganisation.

That verdict has been confirmed by a series of reports from major aid agencies, delivered in the last week before the six-month anniversary today, painting a bleak picture of conditions in Haiti.

The British charity Save the Children, which has described the aftermath of the earthquake as the most challenging and complex emergency in its history, said last week: "Most people have little access to safe shelter, drinking water, electricity or healthcare."

It warned that, given the conditions that so many are still living in, a major storm in the hurricane season could spell another disaster for the country and its people, requiring a renewed surge of humanitarian aid.

The complaints - both public and private - over the stalling of the recovery effort confirm the Observer's own observations in three trips to Haiti over five months.

While some aspects of normal life have returned, rubble appears to have been untouched in large areas of the most badly affected neighbourhoods, survivors have been hit by escalating rent and food prices and, most worrying, those made homeless are steadily trickling back from temporary shanties in Port-au-Prince to live among the rat-infested ruins in areas like Fort National - encouraged to move, they say, by Haiti's government.

The dire state of affairs was underlined by a second report last week from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"The current situation," it reported, "is not sustainable. The Red Cross and other agencies providing water and sanitation services are supplying services on behalf of the Haitian authorities and are stretched beyond their collective capacity and mandate. The current approach is of buying time while longer-term decisions are made."

ActionAid declared at the weekend that the country's reconstruction plans were flawed and in need of an urgent rethink. It was harshly critical of how even the rebuilding that was being undertaken did not take into account the needs of the earthquake victims.

"The rebuilding, overseen by a special commission led by Bill Clinton and Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive, reflects the wishes of donor countries - mainly the US and the EU - rather than the needs of Haitians themselves."

Describing the deadlock, one major British charity said: "It is a serious crisis. The Haitian Government has been paralysed by inertia since the earthquake. There is a strong feeling that it is inappropriate to repeat the errors of the past decades of aid provision - bypassing Haiti's Government."

The major donors who usually gave money were not going to throw more money at Haiti without a coherent plan and the Government needed to stand up quickly.

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