Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Haiti: Renewed Commitment Needed to Deal with Earthquake Aftermath

Haiti's recovery has been painfully slow since the earthquake a year ago and to speed up this process there must be renewed commitment from international donors and aid groups as well as Haiti's political leaders, said the NGO alliance InterAction.

"To turn a corner and replace despair with a sense of hope, will take time, commitment and creativity from all players – from the Haitian government, international donors and NGOs to the population itself which has suffered so much over decades, but particularly in the past year," said Samuel A. Worthington, InterAction President.

The level of devastation from the January 12, 2010 earthquake required one of the largest and most complex relief operations in history which was compounded by an already fragile infrastructure, limited government capacity and soaring poverty levels in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

"As an NGO community we have been juggling one emergency after another since the earthquake, including the cholera outbreak. Has the pace of recovery been fast enough? No. Humanitarian workers make herculean efforts every day but the challenges are monumental," said Worthington, who arrived in Haiti today for a four-day visit.

Aside from the serious cholera outbreak, the most immediate, urgent challenge is to find a more permanent solution to the housing crisis in Haiti, where the earthquake destroyed nearly 190,000 homes and left more than 1.5 million survivors homeless.

"It is heartbreaking to see so many people still living in tents and transitional shelters one year after the earthquake. There needs to be a comprehensive shelter and resettlement strategy for the Haitian people," said Worthington.

An influx of displaced people into rural areas has also put an unprecedented strain on rural households and there needs to be attention also given to areas outside of the capital. In addition, the authorities in Haiti must address land ownership and land tenure disputes through judicial reforms.

With only a fraction of debris removed, another priority must be rubble removal, which has slowed down the rebuilding process. There also must to be sustained investment in water and sanitation programs – a need all the more urgent because of the current outbreak of the waterborne illness cholera. Even before the earthquake, less than 50 percent of Haitians had access to clean water and 81 percent lacked proper sanitation.

More than half of InterAction's nearly 200 members are working in Haiti and the cholera epidemic has slowed down their work as resources are diverted to deal with this crisis. The U.N. estimates as many as 400,000 people may be affected over the next six months to a year and dealing with this epidemic will be a priority for a long time to come.

Another factor slowing down the recovery process has been the recent spate of post-electoral violence.

"We appeal to political leaders in Haiti to help ease the current tensions following the elections. There needs to be a commitment by the current leadership in Haiti to break the political impasse," said Worthington.

"When a new government is formed, we look forward to working with that team. We also hope some of the roadblocks we have previously encountered – including customs holdups – will be a thing of the past and that we can all work closely together to rebuild a country that has suffered too many tragedies," added Worthington.

Source: InterAction