Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rebuilding Haiti - obstacles and options

As many as one million people are still without a proper roof over their heads almost one year after a deadly quake struck Haiti. Journalists and VIPs will be arriving en masse over the next weeks to make their assessments and publish their opinions. They will see hundreds of thousands still under tarpaulins and makeshift shelters and wonder why all the money that has been raised - literally billions - has not been able to achieve more. It is a valid question, easy to ask but complex to answer.

Challenges to finding real shelter solutions have been many and are mostly linked to:

  • the fact that shelter is not just about structures, it encompasses important legal, economic and social aspects that must also be taken into consideration
  • the urgent priority and demands to continue delivering life-sustaining emergency services, including shelter, before proper reconstruction can start
  • land tenure and informal system of property rights (it is said that some 80% of Haiti's property is based on verbal contracts)
  • even when tenure issues are resolved the availability of adequate parcels of land is rare
  • sourcing sites to rebuild that are considered appropriate by the community especially in terms of access to local economy, schools and healthcare (the vast majority understandably do not want to move and prefer to stay in or around their destroyed homes - and forcible displacement to 'new' shelters is clearly not an option for humanitarian organizations)
  • the metropolitan sized task of rapidly removing rubble created from the destruction of an estimated 200'000 homes and buildings has been simply beyond the means of national and international agencies
  • the dilemma faced by aid agencies who despite being flexible are understandably reluctant to rebuild vulnerability i.e. returning people to known vulnerable areas (flood plains, seismic zones etc.) in structures that are are not resistant to hurricanes / earthquakes etc.
The video below, just released, attempts to provide some additional background to the shelter challenges and options.

Haiti, is yet another context which demonstrates, if need be, the limitations of aid. The generous billions donated by ordinary people and communities around the world have been, and will continue to be critical in providing life-saving care and support, restoring livelihoods and delivering numerous other humanitarian services to the people of Haiti. The shelter component however is a challenge of such enormous magnitude that it necessitates long-term and well-financed developmental solutions driven by serious political will, both nationally and internationally. 

The destruction wrought upon Haiti, and especially its capital Port-au-Prince, has left unprecedented challenges for the humanitarian, development and political communities. An entire capital city and all the basic services and infrastructure that its citizens expect and deserve, needs to be completely rebuilt from scratch - and to a standard that will resist future threats. This cannot happen overnight.

One year on, we cannot lose sight of the huge amount that has been achieved but we also know only too well all that remains to be done. In addition to the shelter challenges listed above, the seriously complicating factors of political turmoil, cholera outbreaks, floods and hurricanes have all conspired to stall Haiti's much-needed progress, but nevertheless progressed it has. The serious business of humanitarian aid will continue, and continue for the long haul. Patience and perseverance will be needed as ever. Indeed, the people of Haiti know this more than any of us - already from the first weeks the phrase I most recall was: C'est l'heure de la patience!