Haiti No More?

The US-led effort for Haiti earthquake relief recently hit its six-month mark, prompting many journalists and bloggers to assess the progress of reconstruction. Deborah Sontag at the New York Times reported from Port-au-Prince that significant delays in rebuilding the country and restoring a sense of normalcy to Haitian citizens: “only 28,000 of the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake have moved into new homes, and the Port-au-Prince area remains a tableau of life in the ruins.” Sontag goes on to attribute the shortfalls of the reconstruction effort to the Haitian government, which “has been slow to make the difficult decisions needed to move from a state of emergency into a period of recovery.”

Haitian President René Préval did not exactly raise hopes when he gave a press interview stating that he is still scared to sleep under cement. Furthermore, a draft in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ debris management plan estimated that “it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1,000 days to clear the debris, if it carried 1,000 loads a day.” The reality is, however, Haiti does not have the resources to deploy a thousand 20 yd3 dump trucks 24/7. Instead, debris removal is carried out by Haitians (local ownership! a good thing!), some of whom are paid to break concrete and load wheelbarrows, and others whom are paid to carry bricks across the road (inefficiency! the status quo!).  At this rate, Reginald DesRoches, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, estimates that it could take more than twenty years to clear the rubble, both literally, and as a metaphor for Haitian misery.

Photo: Joan E. Kretschmer via USAID

Despite such somber conditions, the Haitian government handed out medals to celebrities and politicians on July 13, praising their contributions to earthquake relief. The situation is less glamorous outside the ceremony: more than a million Haitians remain homeless with nowhere to turn, and billions of dollars in pledged aid has yet to materialize and key decisions related to efficient relief management are stuck in limbo.

Throughout history, the US has spent over $1 billion on earthquake relief both domestically and internationally. This has led David Rothkopf to wonder whether we should just pull the plug on US assistance to Haiti altogether.

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