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The challenge of providing local authorities, on whom reconstruction and development in Haiti depends, with support as early as the relief phase
Béatrice Boyer & Ben Oduwa

After the earthquake of 12 January 2010, local authorities in Haiti, mainly communes, were criticised for their lack of action, not only by the international aid sector, but also by Haitian society. The PARLOQ, a programme jointly run by the Haitian state and the United Nations, aimed to overcome this situation through the targeted reinforcement of municipal capacities.

The devastating and destructive event which took place in Haiti on 12 January 2010 caused the death of more than 220 000 inhabitants and left more than a million people homeless. Those who lived in cities moved into makeshift shelters in public spaces and squares, highlighting the responsibilities of local institutions. However, the earthquake underlined the weaknesses of Haitian governance in general, with some authorities completely unable to cope with the scale of the impact: they were unable to manage the response at all levels of responsibility, both at the level of the Central Government, with the President unable to use the Presidential Palace, which had been damaged, and at the level of Ministry staff, most of whom were absent, having themselves been very affected, administrative buildings having been destroyed and with victims in every family.

Though municipal authorities were also affected, they nevertheless managed to maintain a presence alongside their devastated populations, some of them putting in place emergency relief structures to provide a rapid response in the areas for which they were responsible [1].

 Large-scale deployment of international assistance to victims: essential aid during the emergency relief phase, but difficult in the cities.

The earthquake of 7.3 magnitude on the Richter scale hit Port-au-Prince, affecting the whole urban metropolitan area. Its catastrophic impact, in a country which already had a great number of problems at every level, mobilized the international humanitarian community on an unprecedented scale. An incredible wave of international solidarity led to many different forms of assistance, ranging from the United Nations stabilization mission already in place before the event (MINUSTAH), specialized UN agencies, and hundreds of international, national, and even local, non-governmental organisations. Each of these bodies did what they could to provide victims with assistance in their different areas of expertise.

And yet, these organisations, despite their number and their vast experience in all kinds of relief operations, had great difficulty in delivering aid, services and supplies, due to a complex urban context, the scale of the needs and of the damage done by the disaster, and difficulties in terms of mobility and access to victims. The presence of a very large number of relief organizations with different mandates operating in accordance with sector-based coordination systems made the response to the humanitarian emergency more complicated. This assistance did not receive a great deal of support locally due to the absence or ineffectiveness of local institutions. There was duplication of activities and financial resources and time was wasted during this initial phase of aid, which even led to an imbroglio of badly channelled operations which were unlikely to produce the expected results and which were very criticized by the local population.

[1] Commune of Port – au – Prince under the administration of the Mayor Jean Yves Jason Muscadin