Haiti Rebuilding Efforts Struggle to Gain Traction

Haiti Rebuilding Efforts Struggle to Gain Traction

Ten months after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 300,000 people and brought destruction on a massive scale to Haiti, only a small portion of the money raised for rebuilding efforts there has been disbursed and spent, the Washington Post reports.

Of the $6 billion pledged for reconstruction efforts at a United Nations donors conference in March, only a third, $2 billion, has been committed to specific projects, while less than half of that, $732 million, has been disbursed. According to the Post, much of that has been used to get the Haitian government up and running.

The delay in reconstruction efforts, the Post reports, is a result of many factors, including bureaucratic red tape in donor nations and the myriad decisions required to rebuild a country that had little reliable infrastructure, a flawed land-title system, and a poorly functioning government pre-earthquake. To make matters worse, a third of the government's employees were killed and most of its buildings destroyed by the quake, while a recent cholera outbreak that killed hundreds more has further complicated the situation.

Still, many observers, including Robert Perito, an aid expert at the United States Institute of Peace, argue that the emergency response to the earthquake did what it was supposed to do: Provide immediate relief to survivors. "The reason," said Perito, "is [that] we're really good at it....We have all this capacity, these wonderful teams that deploy. It's nonpolitical. It's humanitarian. There's not a lot of decisions to be made." Reconstruction, on the other hand, is all about deciding where and what to build. It's "a classic conundrum in development theory," said Perito. "How do you fill the gap between the emergency phase and the long-term development phase?"

The U.S. government, which has provided more than $1 billion for relief efforts in Haiti, pledged an additional $917 million for rebuilding efforts in March. Thanks in part to delays associated with the congressional appropriations process, however, only $120 million has been disbursed. And donor countries aren't the only ones lagging. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund has raised $52 million in pledges for long-term development efforts in the impoverished country, but to date has distributed just $6 million.

"You ask: Why are people still in camps? You might as well ask: Why are Haitians poor?" said Nigel Fisher, chief of the UN humanitarian mission. "It is not rebuilding in Haiti. It is building."

William Booth. "Funding Delays, Housing Complexities Slow Haiti Rebuilding Effort." Washington Post 11/25/2010.