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Haiti

From finger pointing to building confidence in Haiti

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

   

Waiting for a signal. Photo: Haiti's Tent City. Edyta Materka.

The first anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake has seen a lot of finger pointing. The country's Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, faults the donors for failing to open the tap on promised funds. Others blame his government and the legions of NGOs and aid workers for not getting their act together.

As the recriminations reverberate, the bottom line is that ordinary Haitians—with 800,000 of them still living in temporary shelters—don’t see much improvement in their lives. Many, it is reported, feel abandoned by both their government and the international community.

The Prime Minister recognizes things need to move faster and blames the donors who, he says, insist on funding things like education, infrastructure and transport. If the government had its way, the focus would be on clearing the rubble that still dominates the cityscape in the capital Port au Prince and other parts of the country, he says.

What to do to seize the initiative in a country which has known only trauma and deceptions for the past many decades?

There’s no right answer but actions that build confidence would be a big first step. This finding from research for the 2011 WDR—which looks at violence, security and development—certainly resonates in Haiti.

To vote or not to vote

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

A vote too soon?    Photo © Corbis

The wisdom of elections in fragile places is questioned by those who fear they will exacerbate tensions and provoke the kind of violence we saw in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti last week.  This poses a big question: whether to plough ahead regardless or to hold-off on elections until conditions are propitious.

While some conflict experts argue it would be better to wait, many citizens are keen to vote. It’s humbling to see the determination of people in fragile countries who put up with threats to their safety and long lines at polling booths, as well as fraud and intimidation.

Is this another example of hope triumphing over experience?  Perhaps, but it also demonstrates people’s desire to have their voices heard and to influence the course of their lives. So we need to think hard before postponing plebiscites.

Electoral politics are always polarizing, no matter where.  I remember watching CNN night after night in my hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the hanging chad saga that followed the US presidential elections in November 2000.  Even at a distance of 10,000 kilometers, the negative energy was palpable.  After weeks of wrangling, it took US citizens a while to unwind and accept the outcome.

Was Keynes right about fragile states?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Keynes said that “In the long-run we are all dead.” But for people living in fragile states affected by violence, the short run can be deadly too.

The challenge is to balance swift action with long-term stability and security. The two must be carefully paced and sequenced if we are to make progress, both sooner and later.

Not by bricks alone.

Frustration with the slowness of recovery efforts has focused attention on the short-term part of the story. No wonder. We have seen the promise of peace dashed so often by tardy action on meeting immediate needs.

Look at Haiti. Whoever emerges from the presidential elections will be under huge pressure to get a lot done fast, from controlling the cholera epidemic and rebuilding homes to getting intimidating gangs off the streets and creating jobs.

We've been there many times before in fragile places the world over - whether they are emerging from the devastation of violent conflict, exacerbated in Haiti by the earthquake, or about to plunge into it. Neither national leaders nor the international community have been effective enough in responding to the pressures that lead to conflict or reignite its embers.

Speedy action to meet immediate needs is a good start but it is not enough on its own to solve what is perhaps our greatest development challenge -- giving a stake in the future to the 1.5 billion people who are forced to look on as the middle income countries power ahead, with many lower middle income states on their heels.

Inequality of mercy

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

Waiting for the aid tide to turn
Photo © Wordpress

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a special session of the UN General Assembly today to draw attention to the calamitous situation in Pakistan and the urgency of raising $460 million for flood victims.  The lukewarm response to the UN’s appeal (less than 40% pledged so far) compares unfavorably with the $1 billion committed to Haiti within 10 days of the earthquake last January.

The difference in the speed and generosity of the international response to these two humanitarian tragedies is stark. Why does one catastrophe strike a chord and win a boat-load of funding while another elicits compassion but little cash?

With 1,500 dead, 20 million people displaced, and millions of hectares of agricultural land underwater, Pakistan would seem to have a solid claim on international support.

We have heard many explanations for the disappointing response.  John Holmes, The UN’s emergency relief coordinator travelling with Ban Ki-moon in Pakistan last weekend, contrasted the drama of an earthquake or the tsunami with the ‘slow burn’ of this crisis, as the flood waters slowly engulf a fifth of the country.

Haiti Video: Six months after the earthquake

Natalia Cieslik's picture

We often forget that before we thought of Haiti as a place recovering from a devastating earthquake, it was a country struggling with conflict, limited services, and extreme poverty.

Haiti was on a slow road to recovery when the quake hit and more then 250,000 people died. For many Haitians their nation's double tragedy is far from over. Although there are signs of hope and improvement.

 

Haiti: Education for All from WDR Video on Vimeo.

From Aceh to Haiti - Recovery is possible

Natalia Cieslik's picture

Joachim von Amsberg, the World Bank's country director for Indonesia, published an interesting op-ed in today’s Washington Post: Out of Aceh's experience, hope for rebuilding Haiti.  Despite the many differences between these two conflict-affected countries, he draws lessons from post-tsunami Aceh for a possible recovery in Haiti. “Local and national leadership count," he writes, "and empowering people is key.  In Aceh, strong top-down leadership was complemented by the empowerment of the people and communities. Victims became development workers. Aid recipients and former combatants became community facilitators. Displaced families became workers who rebuilt their houses. By channeling a large share of reconstruction funds directly to communities, the people of Aceh's problems were transformed as they became part of the solution. Their hard work meant that houses were built faster, at a lower cost, and better met the needs of the people.”

Haiti Family
    Photo © 'Paul Jeffrey'


 
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Double tragedy

Sarah Cliffe's picture

I visited Haiti just before Christmas with Nik Win Myint from the WDR team. I talked to community groups in some of the slums that have been most ravaged by drugs and gang-related violenceCite de Soleil, Martissant, Bel-air.

    Visiting a poultry farm in Haiti. Photos © Henriot Nader

The people I met had great hope for the futureafter decades of a debilitating cycle of poverty, violence and state inaction, they finally felt that things were improving. The young men in the pictures here had just started their own farm for chicken eggs, funded through small grants from the government.  "Security is better. The police are better. We are still worried about the future, but this is the first time the state has done something for us. People in this community just need the chance to work, to get training" they said.

Who knows how many of the people I talked to are still alive.  Tens of thousands have died in the earthquake, and those who survive have lost family members, their houses, their possessions, their jobs.  This would have been a tragedy at any timeit is more so at a period when the country seemed to be regaining hope and some confidence in the future.

Humanitarian action and state-building in Conflict?

Bruce Jones's picture
   Photo © Arne Noel / World Bank

The past few years have seen the revival of an old debate about the relationship between humanitarian action, military/peacekeeping intervention, and state-building. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military, humanitarian and development actors are working together in new ways, have raised concerns in each community.

Humanitarian actors worry about the loss of perceived impartiality and access to vulnerable populations. People in the military worry about their effectiveness if not backed up by humanitarian and economic assistance. Development actors worry that military actors are undertaking state-building functions without adequate understanding of the implications of their actions.

Given that the renewed debate derives from Afghanistan and Iraq, the argument is probably overplayed, since it is highly unlikely that the specific mode of engagement in those two cases—grounded in large-scale U.S. military deployments—is likely to characterize the predominant form of response to humanitarian crises or fragile states in conflict. Nevertheless, changing forms and patterns of violence will pose new challenges to these communities.