Months later, bil­lions in aid for Haiti re­mains un­spent

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Mary Beth Sheri­dan

WASHINGTON — Three months af­ter donors at a U.S.-spon­sored con­fer­ence pledged more than $5.3 bil­lion to re­build Haiti, just a small frac­tion of the money has been dis­bursed and a re­con­struc­tion com­mis­sion has barely started to func­tion, ac­cord­ing to U.N. and aid of­fi­cials.

U.S. law­mak­ers and in­ter­na­tional aid of­fi­cials have expressed mount­ing con­cern about the slow re­cov­ery in the hemi­sphere’s poor­est coun­try, where about 230,000 peo­ple died and about 2 mil­lion were dis­placed in Jan­uary’s earth­quake. De­spite am­bi­tious plans to “build back bet­ter,” as U.N. and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have promised, the re­con­struc­tion has been hob­bled by a lack of co­or­di­na­tion and cash and a vir­tu­ally in­ca­pac­i­tated Haitian govern­ment, of­fi­cials and ex­perts say.

The United States has not yet dis­bursed a penny of the roughly $900 mil­lion it pledged for re­con­struc­tion this year, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. web­site www.haitispe­cialen­voy.org. Al­though the U.S. govern­ment has spent hun­dreds of mil­lions on short-term emer­gency aid, the rest of the funds are in a sup­ple­men­tal bud­get bill that has been held up in Congress by an un­re­lated dis­pute over state aid.

“There are wor­ri­some signs that the re­build­ing process in Haiti has stalled,” said a re­cent re­port is­sued by Sen. John Kerry, chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

In­deed, about 180 mil­lion square feet of rub­ble is still piled where it sat af­ter the Jan. 12 quake, ac­cord­ing to U.N. es­ti­mates; only 5,000 of the 125,000 tem­po­rary shel­ters promised by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity have been built.

To be sure, there have been some suc­cesses: the pro­vi­sion of thou­sands of tents, as well as clean wa­ter, food and med­i­cal care for more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple. There have been no wide­spread out­breaks of dis­ease.

U.S. of­fi­cials point out that even a suc­cess­ful re­con­struc­tion af­ter a dis­as­ter can take years. They noted that it took about eight months to set up an in­ter­na­tional re­con­struc­tion com­mis­sion in the In­done­sian re­gion of Aceh af­ter the 2004 tsunami. But In­done­sia’s govern­ment had far more money and ex­per­tise, and its cap­i­tal wasn’t de­stroyed, ex­perts say.

Al­ready weak be­fore the quake, the Haitian govern­ment lost 30 per­cent of its pub­lic em­ploy­ees in the dis­as­ter, as well as many of its build­ings and sources of tax rev­enue, of­fi­cials say.

The March 31 donors’ con­fer­ence at the United Na­tions was sup­posed to launch Haiti on the path to re­cov­ery. Its pres­i­dent, Rene Preval, un­veiled an am­bi­tious plan to re­build in­fra­struc­ture and de­cen­tral­ize jobs and homes away from the over­crowded cap­i­tal.

A cen­ter­piece of the plan was to be the In­terim Haiti Re­cov­ery Com­mis­sion, which would co­or­di­nate donor aid with the Haitian govern­ment’s plans and monitor for fraud. U.S. of­fi­cials saw the com­mis­sion, to be co-chaired by for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Haitian Prime Min­is­ter Jean-Max Bel­lerive and staffed with tech­ni­cal ex­perts, as a sort of stand-in for the shat­tered govern­ment.

But Preval was slow to warm to the com­mis­sion, U.S. of­fi­cials say, and it took weeks to get Haitian govern­ment ap­proval and as­sem­ble a staff. The com­mis­sion’s board has held only one meet­ing, on June 17, at which it ap­proved $31 mil­lion in projects.

It still hasn’t named a full-time ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor to run it on a day-to-day ba­sis. An­gel Urena, a spokesman for Clin­ton, said it took time to sort through hun­dreds of can­di­dates. The di­rec­tor should be named at the board’s next ses­sion, on Aug. 17, he said.

Leslie Voltaire, the Haitian spe­cial en­voy to the United Na­tions, said the com­mis­sion’s slow start was con­tribut­ing to the de­lay in re­ceiv­ing aid money.

“It’s like ‘Catch-22’. I think the donors are wait­ing for the IHRC to show its ca­pac­ity. To have ca­pac­ity, it has to have re­sources,” he said.

Clin­ton and Bel­lerive said in an op-ed in The New York Times this week that only 10 per­cent of the $5.3 bil­lion pledged at the U.N. con­fer­ence had been dis­bursed in Haiti. That fig­ure is ex­pected to in­crease in the com­ing days as donor coun­tries update their data.

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