Burning Issues for Haiti’s Recovery

Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University

September 9, 2010

In a presentation to the National Council of Churches’ working group on Haiti, Elizabeth Ferris outlines why the recovery and reconstruction efforts since the January 2010 earthquake have been disapointing, and points out what needs to be done to improve the situation moving forward.

Thanks for the opportunity to be with you today to talk about your efforts to support recovery and reconstruction from the devastation of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. You’ve asked me to give a short overview of some of the burning issues in the recovery effort to serve as background to your development of advocacy strategies both in the United States and in Haiti.

In a nutshell: the recovery process is not going well and reconstruction has barely started. Too many people are continuing to live in extremely precarious conditions. About 1.3 million displaced persons are living under tents and tarps in about 1300 settlement sites. On the financial side, more than seven months after the earthquake, the 22 top donors from the Haiti Donor’s conference who pledged $5.997 billion for 2010 and 2011 had disbursed $538.3 million by August, about 20% of the amount for 2010 and less than 10% of the total amount pledged for the first two years. And the Haiti Reconstruction Fund has so far only received $66.8 million. After every major disaster, there is a gap between the amounts pledged and the amounts actually received, but the gap is particularly large in the case of Haiti. The sheer scale of the damage and the unprecedented flood of funds in the days following the earthquake gave rise to a hope that this time the recovery effort could move more quickly. But not only has that not happened, the recovery efforts on the ground have been slower than usual – slower than for the 2004 tsunami or the 2005 Pakistan effort.

Why are things moving so slowly in Haiti?  The political will of the donors seems to be high and the UN and NGOs have sent experienced and skilled staff to the country, but particular difficulties in four areas are impeding Haiti’s recovery: governance, displacement, housing and violence.   Problems in these four areas didn’t suddenly emerge after the earthquake – rather they are rooted in Haiti’s history.  While they are particularly crucial now, they have always been problems.  The four challenges are all inter-related – when people are displaced, it makes it harder for them to vote; poor housing contributes to violence, etc.  Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to any of them.