Donor Nations Criticized for Slow Response to Haiti Earthquake

Three months after donors at a U.S.-sponsored conference pledged more than $5.3 billion to rebuild Haiti, little of the money has been disbursed, and a special reconstruction commission has barely started to function, the Washington Post reports.

At the March 31 donors' conference at the United Nations, Haitian president René Préval unveiled a plan to rebuild infrastructure, decentralize jobs, and establish homes away from the overcrowded capital. A centerpiece of the plan was to be the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which would coordinate donor aid with the Haitian government's plans and monitor for fraud. But Préval was slow to warm to the commission, according to U.S. officials, and it took weeks to get Haitian government approval and assemble a staff. The commission's board has held only one meeting, at which it approved $31 million in projects, and still has no executive director.

U.S. lawmakers and international aid officials have expressed mounting concern about the slow recovery of the hemisphere's poorest country, where about 230,000 people died and some two million were displaced in January's earthquake. Despite ambitious plans to "build back better," the reconstruction has been hobbled by a lack of coordination and cash and by a virtually incapacitated Haitian government. The United States has not disbursed the roughly $900 million it pledged for reconstruction this year, according to a UN Web site. Although the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions on short-term emergency aid, the rest of the funds are in a supplemental budget bill that has been held up in Congress by an unrelated dispute over state aid.

Despite these challenges, there have been some successes: the provision of thousands of tents and clean water, food, and medical care for more than one million people. Also, there have been no widespread outbreaks of disease. But about 180 million square feet of rubble is still piled where it sat after the quake, according to UN estimates, while only 5,000 of the 125,000 temporary shelters promised by the international community have been built.

U.S. officials pointed out that a successful post-disaster reconstruction can take years, noting that it took about eight months to set up an international reconstruction commission in the Indonesian region of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami. However, Indonesia's government had far more money and expertise than Haiti's, and its capital was not destroyed, some experts have argued. Furthermore, development officials said it is difficult to plan projects without knowing when funding will arrive.

"I don't sense a reluctance" by donor nations, said one official, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity. "It's really a lack of urgency, which to me is a little bit shocking....The situation in Haiti is quite dire."