What Happened to 'Building Back Better' in Haiti?

 Humanitarian Funding for Haiti from 2010-2012 (Click to enlarge). Source: UN OCHA

After Haiti was ravaged by the earthquake on January 12, 2010, the world promised to not only rebuild the nation and the it’s destroyed capital city, but to ‘build back better’, ensuring that earthquake and hurricane-resistant architecture was used and that the rebuilding process was sustainable (i.e. that it wouldn’t lead to further deforestation – one of the reasons why the earthquake was especially damaging). Yet it is nearly three years after the earthquake and, as per usual, the international community has failed on fulfilling its promises.

On March 31, 2010, the international community pledged 9.9 billion USD1 towards reconstruction efforts and for ‘building back better’ - $5.3 billion for the near term and $4.6 billion for the long term. Of this $9.9 Venezuela and South American nations pledged $2 billion, the EU pledged $1.6 billion, and the US pledged $1.16 billion2 (which is ironic seeing as much of the devastation done to Haiti throughout history was a result of U.S. policies, like supporting dictators and undermining Haitian agriculture by importing subsidized U.S. food…but that’s all topics for another day).

If you are thinking that $9.9 billion would certainly do the job for ‘building back better’, think again. $9.9 billion, if distributed equally among all Haitian citizens, would not even be $1,000 for each person – that’s hardly enough to ‘build back better’. What the international community instead said with this pledge is something along the lines of ‘We will build back what was in place (if that), and if we can make a few changes along the way, we will’. Not the type of aid policy that I like to see.

It was in the wake of these huge pledges for building Haiti back better, more sustainable, and more secure that Ban Ki-moon expressed great optimism for the future of the Caribbean nation:
“As we move from emergency aid to long-term reconstruction, what we envision is a wholesale national renewal [for Haiti], a sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale and scope not seen in generations…Today, we have mobilized to give Haiti and its people what they need most: hope for a new future. We have made a good start; we need now to deliver”.
Unfortunately, the international community did not deliver. Ban Ki-moon’s optimism most likely soon waned when the international community once again failed to follow through with its pledges.

Is ‘Building Back Better’ the Right Approach?
Many involved in the Haitian relief efforts, like United Nations Deputy Special Envoy, Paul Farmer, were/are fixated on the ‘building back better’ approach, but Paul Currion believes that Haiti does not need to be built back better, it needs to be reinvented.

Although somewhat of a cynical and intense post, Currion does make some decent arguments. He argues that building back better would merely build back the systems that were already broken in Haiti and therefore would fail to give the people what they need to protect themselves from similar disasters in the future.

He instead argues that Haiti needs to be reinvented, specifically in the areas of architecture, agriculture, sanitation, solar power, communications, transportation, and finance. He recommends using sustainable housing techniques such as the non-combustible and earthquake-proof rammed earth construction, implementing solar power, building urban farms, and paving roads to ease transport. He makes some interesting arguments, perhaps ones that should be given greater consideration by NGOs and governments operating in the relief efforts.

Status of Haiti Relief Funding
UN OCHA recently released the infographic above, which depicts humanitarian funding to Haiti since 2010. In 2010, the humanitarian consolidated appeal for Haiti requested $1.5 billion for relief efforts (I assume this is only for emergency relief?), while only $1.1 billion was delivered. In 2011, it is obvious that the international community began to lack interest in Haiti’s reconstruction (another year, another disaster somewhere else, right?), and funds dropped to $211 million. Now, in 2012, only $52 million is being funded by humanitarian organizations, which is not even half of the $128 requested by the consolidated appeal.

This year, while nutrition programs, water/sanitation, education, and communication systems all have decent funding, areas such as camp coordination and shelter are falling far too short of their requested appeals.

Tropical storm Isaac, which hit Haiti in late August, highlighted the need to close the remaining 575 IDP camps and find permanent homes for the 390,000 people still living under tents. The fact that nearly 400,000 people are still living under tarps is a testament to the international community’s failure (once again) to follow through on its promises. Those 390,000 people don’t care what amount of funding the world promised them in 2010, what they care about is the actual amount being delivered and where it is going.

Although there have been some signs of success, like the recent completion of a shelter program by the Canadian Red Cross that provides earthquake and hurricane resistant homes to 37,000 people in Jacmel and Leogane, there is still much to be done.

Two and a half years ago I anticipated many more success stories coming from Haiti’s reconstruction efforts and I hoped to see the international community and NGOs follow through with their promises for once, but it appears as if my optimism was too hasty. I hope that there is more significant progress come the three year anniversary this January.

1 My $9.9 billion USD figure differs from the infographic above because the $9.9 is what governments and international community’s (like the EU) pledged, while the infographic released by OCHA depicts only what humanitarian aid organizations pledged.
2 All figures from Paul Farmer, Haiti after the Earthquake, (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011), 158.


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