Haiti was a disaster long before the Jan. 12 earthquake. Six months later, reconstruction has stalled. At least 1.5 million people live in tent cities. Some 2 million face malnutrition. In some areas, workers are removing the rubble of downed buildings in buckets because they lack heavy equipment and there are no roads to get equipment to the sites. The international community needs to step up the pace and bring cash to the table before the humanitarian crisis gets any worse.
The world community reacted immediately and generously after the earthquake to send aid, relief workers and hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. But that effort is at an impasse, the result of an ongoing debate over whether to focus aid money on immediate relief or on longer-term development. This is a chance to rebuild the fundamentals in Haiti — housing, infrastructure, the economy and governance. It makes no sense to merely replace the dilapidated foundations the earthquake destroyed.
But aid groups need to balance that longer view with a clearer eye toward Haiti's more immediate humanitarian needs. Allowing homelessness, hunger and crime to worsen only weakens the security necessary for redevelopment projects to get up and running. Donors also want to start seeing some results. The American Red Cross and other aid groups were enormously successful in raising money because the scope of the devastation shocked the world. But aid groups have spent only a fraction of the money they have raised, socking away a half-billion dollars for reconstruction instead of relief efforts.
Former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, was a superb choice to co-chair the interim commission on rebuilding Haiti. He brings a wealth of contacts, instant name recognition and an understanding of Haiti's systemic problems and needs. Clinton needs to bring transparency to the rebuilding effort so that foreign donors and multinationals commit over the long term. He needs the United Nations to pledge technical assistance to rebuild Haiti's civil service. And foreign governments need to honor their financial pledges. Donor nations have provided only 10 percent of the $2.5 billion in aid they have promised for 2010. Haiti needs ready access to cash to sustain an orderly redevelopment effort.
Haitians worried about this year's hurricane season are already rebuilding their homes with debris they have scavenged from junk piles. If the recovery effort continues to lag, ordinary Haitians will lose confidence in the reconstruction effort and in their government, and they will replicate the weak foundations that have long plagued Haitian society. Clinton needs to create a greater sense of urgency in Haiti and abroad before the nation slips even further from the public eye, as elections, the BP oil spill and tomorrow's news competes for public attention — and money. The people of Haiti still need a tremendous amount of help, and emergency needs have to be met before long-term urban planning will be successful.