Wednesday, April 7, 2010

VIDEO:Rebuilding Waits on Promised Haiti Aid

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UNITED NATIONS, (IPS) - A week ago, 59 U.N. member states, international institutions and NGO coalitions pledged nearly 10 billion dollars towards rebuilding Haiti over the next decade.

But the self-congratulation ended with the conference's upbeat closing press conference, as NGOs and activists are now questioning both the reconstruction plan and the likelihood that nations will follow through on their financial commitments.

At the meeting, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon promised to create an online database that would track the amount of money that countries had actually contributed to reconstruction efforts.

Since conference pledges are non-binding, there is concern that other international priorities and attrition will stymie fundraising efforts. For instance, in a press release before the conference, Oxfam's Philippe Mathieu noted that only 30 percent of the relief money pledged for Haiti after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 actually materialised.

And at the conference itself, former U.S. president and current U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton admitted that he had "failed" in his fundraising efforts prior to the earthquake, and said that he had only raised 30 percent of his pre-quake target.

"Oxfam has witnessed other huge pledging conferences," said Nicole Widdersheim, the director of Oxfam's New York office. "At the end of the day when the cameras turn off and everyone goes home, these are promises. They're not real cash yet."

She said that it was up to "media organisations and advocacy organisations" to hold donor nations accountable for their promised reconstruction spending. Questions about both the dispersal of aid money and the framework for reconstruction planning and implementation have also muted any celebration of the conference. While the meet succeeded in doubling its goal of raising 3.8 billion dollars for the next 18 months of reconstruction work, a Time magazine piece found that Haitians were sceptical as to whether that money would produce any benefits for them.

Time reporter Jessica Desvarieux wrote from Port-Au-Prince that "Haitians are concerned that aid money will not trickle down to the people but instead be used by the government to take care of its own." This echoes pre-conference concerns over using reconstruction funds to prop up a government that has historically been wasteful and corrupt.

On the other hand, Widdersheim said that the reconstruction process has excluded Haitians, and explained that the government's post-disaster relief assessment was made with virtually no input from earthquake survivors.

"A lot of Haitian organisations on the ground feel that the consultative process was null and void," she said. "The average person sitting under a plastic sheet in a camp around Port-au-Prince wasn't really asked what they wanted to see."

According to Widdersheim, the Haitian government rushed the post-disaster assessment in order to finish it in time for the donors' conference, which meant that relatively few earthquake survivors were even aware that the reconstruction process had begun.

"Most of the people in the camps where we work didn't even know [the needs assessment study] was going on," Widdersheim said.

City University of New York sociologist and Haiti expert Mark Schuller, who returned from Haiti this past week, echoed many of Widdersheim's concerns, and said that the reconstruction has "clearly" bee a "top-down process".

He said that grassroots groups in Haiti have been conducting their own surveys of what quake refugees say they need for the coming months. "I've seen databases that were carefully constructed that have been totally ignored," he said, describing one detailed census that covered over 11,600 people in a single camp.

Schuller fears that the failure to include Haitian organisations and the survivors themselves in reconstruction efforts echoes major mistakes of past development efforts.

"What you're seeing is a repeat of the same process of exclusion," he said, warning that "donors that have little to do with the reality on the ground" could dictate a redevelopment process that entrenches many of Haiti's pre-quake problems.

Before the quake, Haiti suffered from an over-centralised population and economy, with the Port-au-Prince area producing nearly 80 percent of the country's GDP. Right now, there are plans to move the country's governmental apparatus out of the city.

Meanwhile, Patrick Duplat of Refugees International expressed some optimism at the role Haitian civil society has already played in reconstruction efforts. But a week after the donors' conference, there is still almost no sense of what the nation's rebuilding - or what the nation itself - will actually look like a decade from now.

Source: IPS

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