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"A country should not depend on the international community"

Haiti Quake Victims Queue for Water. Victims of the 12 January earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, queue for water. 
18 January 2010. Port-au-Prince, Haiti
(UN Photo/Sophia Paris)

Six months after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, 1.6 million people are still living in makeshift shacks and tents, and rubble fills many streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince. "There are worrisome signs that the rebuilding process in Haiti has stalled," said a report issued by the US Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations.

One of the main problems is money. Donors promised US$5.3 billion over 18 months at an international conference at the United Nations on 31 March, yet only Brazil has produced its entire pledge package of $55 million. In all, only 10 percent of the $5.3 billion has been handed over to the Haitian government.

"I can understand why, in this budget climate, people want to hold onto their money until the end," Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti and co-chair of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), told media. "We are looking at ... the commission approving projects and raising money for them."

"A lot of these donors want to know what their money is going to go for," Clinton said. The Commission will meet with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, "And then I am going to call a number of the donors and try to get those that have expressed a willingness, and can legally give direct budget support to the government," to release pledged funds.

James Jordan of the Alliance for Global Justice, which works to promote social and economic change, told IRIN: "The failure rate of nations to meet their pledges to Haiti is a disgrace – only Brazil has met its pledge, and Venezuela has given greatly and continues to provide substantial aid."

The US Senate report noted that the IHRC – co-chaired by Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive - was created to be "an efficient mechanism, separate from the bureaucracy of Haiti's line ministries, that will sit key donors together with government officials and allow for swift decisions and implementation of development priorities."

Not seeing eye to eye

The IHRC is not yet fully operational. In mid-April the Haitian legislature gave it significant power over the country's development for an 18-month emergency period, but it has taken since then to name 26 voting members.

Half the members are representatives of donors pledging at least $100 million or $200 million in debt relief, including the US, Venezuela, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Spain, France, Norway, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.

The other half are Haitians from the government, parliament, and civil society. The full commission is required to vote on any project costing more than $500,000. The IHRC currently does not have an executive director.

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The body was officially inaugurated on 17 June, when it approved three projects: $45 million from Brazil and Norway to close part of the Haitian government's $170 million budget shortfall; $1 million from the Clinton Foundation for 10 communal shelters that can double as health clinics and schools; and a $20 million fund to provide loans to Haitian businesses, given by billionaires Carlos Slim of Mexico and Frank Guistra of Canada.

Another problem is seeing eye to eye. The US Senate report noted "clear disagreements among donors about how the IHRC approval structure should work, which entity has ultimate sign-off for disbursement of funds from the multi-donor trust fund [administered by the World Bank], and how much discretion should be given to the IHRC secretariat."

Clinton confirmed that "there have been some rather spirited discussions with the World Bank about what their role is, and what the costs are going to be for small projects, which have been both sources of friction and has slowed us up some."

In an article for The New York Times, Clinton and Bellerive wrote that the World Bank could contribute "by streamlining the process for releasing money and preventing reconstruction funds from being diverted to redundant technical reviews."

The Senate report pointed out that "these disagreements threaten to slow funding. It is difficult to pressure the government in Haiti to move expeditiously when donors themselves lack consensus about the structure of the IHRC."

Many Haitians are pessimistic. "I think a country cannot survive on promises," said Louis Elneus of Haiti Lumiere de Demain, an NGO that works to improve educational opportunities on Gonâve Island, off the coast of the capital. "A country should not depend on the international community."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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