Haiti, my Haiti

Sunday, January 09, 2011

By Prospery Raymond

 

Looking back on the last year in Haiti is not easy. Last Christmas we were celebrating a new phase for the country. Malnutrition was in decline and the economy was moving into growth for the first time in years. There was a lot of optimism about the future.

Then the earthquake struck and suddenly we were forced to mourn friends and family members. My immediate family survived. But so many did not.

Until now, I have hardly had time to reflect or mourn. After local youths rescued me from the rubble of the Christian Aid office, I spent the rest of the evening accompanying injured colleagues to the hospital.

For me and everyone else in Haiti, the reconstruction began the very next day. My average work day stretched to 15 hours as we tried to co-ordinate the work of both our local partners and several Christian Aid colleagues arriving from London and neighbouring countries to help.

At one point I had 18 friends, colleagues and relatives living in tents in my front yard as the aftershocks were continuing and it was not considered safe to sleep indoors for more than a month after the earthquake.

It was heartening to see help pouring in from all over the world. What was less visible, however, was the solidarity shown by friends and neighbours in the early days when formal distribution networks were not yet in place.

In the days immediately following the earthquake, the Haitian government organised buses for people who lost their homes to travel to the countryside to stay with family members.

Rebuilding homes and businesses in Port-au-Prince is going to be very difficult and take many, many years. For one thing, less than half of the money pledged at the international donors conference in March last year has actually reached Haiti. And much of the money that has arrived has gone to pay foreign contractors meaning that the money is not helping the Haitian economy to recover.

Most of the food aid is imported, too, even though there are Haitian farmers willing to increase their capacity to feed those who need help in Port-au-Prince.

The other problem with rebuilding in Port-au-Prince is the question over who owns the land. Most people were living in rented accommodation before the earthquake. It is likely that their landlord either did not have a title to land on which the house was built or their documents were lost in the earthquake.

It’s often impossible to determine who owns land, and if you get this wrong, and build on land that is contested, the people you’re trying to help can end up homeless again.

For these reasons, Christian Aid, a member of the ACT Alliance, has decided to focus its work outside the capital in the villages and towns that have received very little international aid. If people have the means to earn a living in the countryside they will be less likely to travel back to the capital in search of work.

People left the countryside largely because trade policies imposed by the World Bank made their produce uncompetitive with imported food….mainly rice. This meant they could not support themselves and they went to the capital in search of work.

Both Christian Aid and the Haitian government would like to see this trend reversed in the wake of the earthquake, by supporting the rural economy.  We believe this is the best way back to self-sufficiency.

 

Prospery Raymond is ACT member Christian Aid's country manager for Haiti

Haiti: after the earthquake