Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico published an article in Religion and Liberty in the fall of 2010 on Haiti and how we could help it recover. It has been several months since then, and eighteen months since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti near Port-au-Prince, killing around 230,000 people. Eighteen months is a long time and many, including myself, have pushed Haiti into the background of their minds. However, Haiti is still desperately struggling to recover from this terrible disaster.
Excerpts from a letter written to the International Organization of Migration by a Haitian citizen show just how dire the situation is: “Since January 12th, things have only gotten worse and worse. We do not have work and we do not have money. There is no supervision. We are shown hope, but nothing has come to us except the hurricane season.”
Another letter written to the IOM by a Haitian citizen states: “What will be done for those of us living in tents? We are eating dust. We want to go home. How can you help? There are talks of a rebuilding process since IOM carried out a registration in the camp but nothing has happened. Must we wait for ever? We want to find work, because it is very painful to wait and be dependent on others for help. When we work, we suffer less. We believe that if IOM could give us work, things would be better for us and our families.”
The Haitian people are still struggling mightily to merely survive. How did this happen?
It has not been from a lack of generosity. According to the British charity Oxfam, “over $1 billion was quickly raised for the emergency response… [it was] ‘unprecedented generosity’ shown by the world for Haiti.”
In fact, the aid has helped in many ways: “U.N. figures show around 4 million people received food assistance, emergency shelter materials were delivered to 1.5 million, safe water was distributed to more than a million, while a million more benefited from cash for work programs. The U.N. World Food Program continues to help close to two million Haitians with school meals, nutrition and cash-and-food-for work programs.”
However, as the recovery has dragged on, Oxfam reports that “few damaged houses have been repaired and only 15 percent of the basic and temporary new housing required has yet been built.” Also, much of the rubble from the earthquake has yet to be cleared, which has significantly slowed rebuilding and recovery efforts.
In terms of human health, the president of Doctors Without Borders International “blasted what he called the ‘failure of the humanitarian relief system’ to stem cholera epidemic deaths in Haiti.”
In addition, Oxfam reports “The World Bank says almost half of the $5.3 billion — about $2.6 billion — has been approved in donors’ budgets, while a separate Bank document said [only] $1.2 billion had been actually disbursed to date for program support.” Only about 23 percent of the funds available for Haiti’s recovery have been dispersed, and this has certainly slowed rebuilding.
Oxfam has called the situation a “quagmire”. The lack of progress is not surprising given the leadership vacuum in Haiti: “[the earthquake] has brought together a weakened and struggling Haitian government, an alphabet soup of U.N. agencies, other governments from around the world and an army of private charities that some estimate at more than 10,000.”
Although the relief effort started off well, the chaos of a situation with no clear leader has stifled a true recovery and left the Haitian people in despair unnecessarily. If the Haitian government has been unwilling or unable to lead due to the magnitude of the disaster, then another organization or country needs to step up and help Haiti organize the charities and aid dispersal. Waiting for “someone else” to take the lead has just caused more suffering.
Ted Constan, chief program officer of Boston-based Partners In Health, said, “We need to think about getting money down into the communities to produce jobs for people because that’s the only way people are going to get on their feet economically. We’d like to see more of a ‘pull’ policy being generated around getting people out of the camps – markets, jobs, healthcare, clean water, stable housing etc.” Helping Haitians get jobs and adequate housing is fundamental to the rebirth of the country.
In the words of Rev. Sirico: “Haiti needs practical help and generous charity right now — implemented intelligently, and with a keen eye for existing conditions. We need to support aid agencies that provide water and medicine.” This is still as true today as it was in the fall of 2010. As much as possible, we need to support organizations that can successfully accomplish this.
Finally, as Rev. Sirico has previously stated: “In the long run, we have to look at what Haiti needs to prevent such disasters and minimize their impact. What the country needs is economic development and a culture that can support such development. What Haiti needs are the institutions that provide protection and cushioning in cases of emergency. Most of all, it needs to develop economically.” Hopefully, this will happen soon, but, until then, we can keep Haiti in mind, pray for the people there, remember to support the charity efforts there, and have a desire to help the country progress and develop in the future.