Washington, D.C.- Three years after Haiti’s devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed over 217,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, Haiti continues to struggle despite – and partly because of – the failures of the international aid and reconstruction effort, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today.
“The numbers are an indictment of how the international community has once again failed Haiti, in this case in its time of greatest need,” Weisbrot said. “The housing effort has been abysmal, people are facing a food crisis, and even worse, some of the very people supposedly in Haiti to help – U.N. troops — caused a cholera epidemic that has killed almost 8,000 people.
“Despite all of these urgent needs, the international community has disbursed only half of the $13.34 billion allocated by bilateral and multilateral donors for Haiti’s reconstruction.” Given the glaring lack of tangible progress in reconstruction efforts, greater transparency and accountability around the use of the funds that have been disbursed so far are critically needed.
Weisbrot noted that housing for those displaced by the earthquake has been one of the most obvious failures: “Almost 360,000 people remain in camps three years later, while the reconstruction effort has resulted in less than 6,000 new houses.” A recent feature article in theNew York Times reported that “just a sliver of the total disbursement — $215 million — has been allocated to the most obvious and pressing need: safe, permanent housing.”
Over 25,000 people have signed a petition calling on the U.N. to take responsibility for the cholera epidemic in Haiti. “Cholera is the most shameful aspect of the international response to Haiti’s humanitarian emergencies,” Weisbrot said. “Long before the earthquake, the need for clean drinking water and upgraded sanitation was there. The U.S. actually blocked loans for these purposes in order to undermine, and ultimately overthrow, the democratically-elected government. Then the U.N. troops sent in after that government was overthrown ended up causing a cholera outbreak that spread rapidly due to the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation. Yet the U.N. continues to refuse to take responsibility.”
Weisbrot also noted that refusal by the U.S. government to change its food aid policy in order to prioritize the needs of the Haitian people over the profits of agribusiness companies, has further weakened Haiti’s food security. “Some 2.1 million people now live in severe food insecurity in Haiti, up from 800,000 in 2011,” Weisbrot said. “The U.S. Congress had an opportunity after the quake to support Haitian farmers by buying up their crops as part of U.S. food aid, but this proposal went nowhere.”
Weisbrot condemned what has long been seen by many aid experts as one of the most damaging aspects of U.S. aid to Haiti: the circumvention of the Haitian government. “Despite vows to the contrary, the Haitian government has been further weakened through the rebuilding bonanza that followed the earthquake. The Haitian government was side-stepped as usual, getting just 1 percent of relief money, and Haitian contractors were also excluded, getting just 1.2 percent of USAID contracts.”
“It is tragic because it is easy to see how this could all be done differently,” Weisbrot said. “Hire local people and use local contractors as much as possible; buy products – including food – from within Haiti rather than importing them. Make the Haitian government a central partner in the effort, and always prioritize the needs of the Haitian people over everything else.”