Monday, April 12, 2010

Haiti: Enormous challenges remain, three months on

Recent heavy rains and their mud-soaked aftermath have once again turned the spotlight back onto Haiti.

Along with the immediate shock at the continuing human suffering, the images we’re seeing are also provoking another reaction; why, when so many of us around the world have given so much, are those affected by the earthquake still living in such appalling conditions?

Why, when the world knew that the rainy season was coming, are people still forced to shelter under tarpaulins? Where are the new houses for the homeless? Where, in short, is the relief effort which might seem to have dissolved under the rains?

In truth, aid agencies in Haiti are working harder than ever to provide relief and protect people from the rains.

So far, shelter distributions led by the International Red Cross have reached close to 1.2 million people. Haiti represents one of the fastest distribution operations ever undertaken. This in spite of well-publicised problems including a port too damaged to operate, blocked roads and a clogged airport.

Some obstacles undoubtedly persist, but humanitarian agencies in Haiti continue to perform logistical miracles to get aid to those in need.

In the United States, one of the the richest countries in the world, with teams of the most well equipped experts on earth, it took two years to clear the rubble of the World Trade Centre.

Haiti, it hardly needs to be pointed out, is not the United States. Rubble clearance and reconstruction is an enormous task, and to achieve long-term, sustainable recovery we have to be realistic about the size of that task and how long it will take.

That is why emergency shelter has been the focus. We have to reach the most vulnerable people with the most effective forms of aid possible within the time available. In Haiti that means mass distribution of waterproof tarpaulins to get shelter to as many people as possible. Gradually, as rubble is removed and new land made available, families will receive metal roof sheeting and timber and steel frames to construct more durable shelters.

We need to help people as quickly as we can, but must not let pressure to increase the speed of our response lead to errors of judgement which could undermine recovery, and jeopardise people’s lives, in the long term.

All aid agencies are working round the clock to make sure people are protected in the short-term and ensure a safer future in the years ahead but it is a sad reality that, with the rains coming, the situation for people living in the camps will get worse before it gets better.



  1. Excellent video. Situation and outlook very well presented.

  2. FYI, it only took 9 months for rubble to be cleared from the WTC. Your timeline stood out to me because I'm a New Yorker. No way would our powers-that-be allow the economic engine of the city to sit with rubble for three years. I agree with your overall point though, that folks who're frustrated with the pace of removal should be realistic.

  3. Dear Carla - many thx for your comments and insights -- the source of the 2yr comment was taken from a Washpost article, the relevant comment being: "How long did it take to remove the twin towers after 9/11? It took them two years, and that was in New York City, and it cost a lot of money. We are Port-au-Prince, and our government doesn't have any money," said Philippe Cineas, director general of Haiti Blocs, a concrete-block maker and construction company that has cleared rubble from five sites, including a bank "where we had to work very slowly, very carefully, because they were looking for the vault."

    Nevertheless, I accept fully your insights and don't doubt it. Thx again for reading and commenting.

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