Haiti, two years after the Earthquake. Challenges and prospects.

Exactly two years ago, on January 12th 2010 at 4:53 pm local time, the most devastating earthquake in modern history ravaged the small Caribbean nation of Haiti. With a magnitude of 7.1 (Richter scale) it destroyed wide parts of the country’s capital Port-au-Prince and neighbouring towns, but other cities like Jacmel or Lêogane too. With its long history of state decay and bad governance, the government and the institutions were uncapable of both preventing and coping with the sudden disaster. International response came in quickly but even the United Nations (which were badly touched by the quake) and bunches of NGOs did not succeed in control the situation.

Only after weeks the humanitarian situation could be controlled to some extent by the involved entities. Around 200 000 people died during or in the immediate aftermath of that catastrophy. A couple of months later, Cholera started spreading through the shocked country as a peacekeepers’ battalion failed in upholding the necessary hygienic standards. Due to the bad sanitation situation throughout the country, an epidemic could rapidly spread over its inhabitants. Late 2010 has been additionally marked by a violent electoral campaign and a regime change from René Preval to Michel Martelly. Unfortunately Martelly took several months to build up a new government with consent of the legislative chambers. All those event did further slow down the recovery process. International partners on their side, have been reluctant to implement promised programmes and disburse pedged funds, as reported in the Guardian. Two years after the disaster, the situation remains tense both in political and humanitarian matters.

Reconstruction efforts are still made by many national and international actors. As to misunderstandings and communication problems, a growing discontent among both sides can be noticed. Unfortunately, it has become obvious that neither the Haitian side nor the international community will be able to realise the grand effort of reconstructing or even refounding the once so proud first black nation of the world. The new government under President Martelly and Prime Minister Garry Conille seems to pursue an agenda based on private investment and flourishing business in Haiti. As per now it remains unclear whether this strategy may help the Haitian population to overcome distress and poverty. The country’s weak productive capacities have almost fully been destroyed two years ago which is why there are few prospects that a clearly neoliberal economic agenda will bear fruits for the average Haitian. Rather, the national economy should be propped up by some sort of Marshall fund provided multilaterally in order to diminish Haiti’s vulnerability towards international markets, at least for a starting period.

Further, political struggles before, during and after the electoral campaign continued to block useful and well thought efforts in terms of recovery. As ICG’s Bernice Robertson put it, Haiti must overcome its “winner-takes-it-all” politics and create an inclusive political arena where all relevant political and societal actors can gather and jointly work towards lasting solutions. This is particularly topical in relation to various Haitian development and human rights group that have been paralysed by their lack of recognition and political support. This lack though can be translated from Haiti’s political class’s traditional scepticism towards a recently mushrooming NGO universe. Both sides will have to prove their credible commitment to serve their nation. The most burning topical issues still include land issues and decentralisation of power.

The response of the international community has not been pretty better after all. Although many different humanitarian actors of all sorts are running massive rehabilitation programmes, coordination has remained an obvious challenge. Besides organisational cooperation among humanitarian actors, the connection of relief, rehabilitation and development should be subject of further improvement throughout the coming 12 months. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon should urge the member states and other institutional donors to fulfil given commitments and to bolster the respective development and recovery projects.

After all, Haiti is not a hopeless case. As this very brief comment may have shown, there are ways to identify the ongoing problems and challenges of the country. Although it is a particularly difficult setting, there are apparent solutions, or at least ways how to deal with the given state of misery and poverty. Haitians themselves should not forget that and be encouraged to continue their own efforts and be assisted to even better coordinate their ongoing work for the refoundation and reconstruction of their nation. They should also been granted more political leverage so that a creative civil society can assume the necessary ownership of an, at best, all-inclusive recovery effort.

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