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Humanitarian Aid on the move #7, special issue: Haïti

Haiti: the reconstruction is not at a standstill, but the challenges remain enormous
Pierre Duquesne

The first anniversary of the terrible earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 was an appropriate moment for the Haitians themselves and the international community to look at the progress which had been made in reconstructing the country. Without being unduly optimistic and without denying the size of the task ahead, there is room for a slightly less negative view than the one given by many observers in January.

 I. This is not only a case of physical reconstruction, but also of institutional construction

Immediately after the earthquake, over and above the legitimate compassion that was felt, the international community and the press were right in their analysis: an earthquake of this magnitude would not have caused so much damage had it not struck an extremely fragile country. In other words, the seismic fault revealed structural faults.

The consequences of the earthquake were worse than any previous natural disaster: physical and economic losses representing 120% of GDP; 250 000 people killed; 1.6 million people displaced, a volume of rubble equal to 15 or 20 times that of the World Trade Center in New York… But this earthquake also struck a country with only an anaemic administration: no Housing Ministry (and no Land Registry), no veritable governance of the Education sector (85% of which is private), no organised funding of the Health system, one of the lowest rates of public revenue collection in the world…

One year on, in spite of the judgement rightly made by those who are faced with the ordeal, it has been very tempting to say that no progress has been made. Though it is clear that decisions could (and should) have been made more rapidly (here, like anywhere else, an electoral campaign does not lend itself to making difficult decisions), the fact that it has not all been fixed does not mean there has been no progress at all.

Two points should be kept in mind:

  • The reconstruction should not be measured only in terms of the volume of rubble cleared, or the amount of funds allocated, but also in terms of the institutional building which is taking place. For example, in keeping with the commitment made by President Sarkozy on 17 February 2010 in Port-au-Prince, France has provided places for 450 Haitian students in its universities, for around 20 pupils at the French National School for the Judiciary (out of a class of around 150) and for 3 students at the Ecole nationale du cadastre (out of a class of 12) …
  • The (re)construction will take at least a decade (in Indonesia, where there was a powerful State, the post-tsunami reconstruction lasted almost five years): it is crucial that this long term view is adopted to make sure all the relevant forces remain mobilised.