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European Commissioner for Development
Haiti, one year after: Keeping our promises and accelerating our efforts
Conference "Haiti, One Year after the Earthquake",
Egmont Palace (Brussels), 23 February 2011
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here to give the closing address at this conference. This event has seen many different interests come together in a common cause: to take our aid to the people of Haiti in an efficient and effective manner. I am glad to see that the Conference has succeeded in bringing together Haitian and international stakeholders from government and civil society to discuss the response to last year's devastating earthquake.
Let me start by thanking the Government of Canada, the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations and the Haitian Embassy for their hard work in bringing us all together today. To be honest, we would expect nothing less from Canada – a steadfast friend to the EU and to Haiti as well. This Conference is an ideal occasion for us to take stock of what we, development partners have managed to do and also to find ways to improve the delivery of our assistance. I very much hope it will serve to give a new impetus to our combined efforts to help rebuild Haiti. That is why I am here. And that is why you are here too.
Linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD)
My colleague, Commissioner Georgieva, has already outlined to you the impressive work that she and her services have been undertaking in difficult conditions to maximise the impact of the EU's humanitarian response in Haiti.
Now it is time to look further ahead. We are at a stage where development cooperation is gradually taking over for the medium to long-term reconstruction phase.
This link between relief, rehabilitation and development is of the utmost importance. We are already working to make this link as effective as possible. For instance, we are putting in place a EUR 23 million programme to move people from emergency shelters to transitional housing, using an integrated neighbourhood approach. This involves rebuilding and repairing damaged houses and providing basic services, as an incentive for people made homeless by the earthquake to leave the camps and return to their own neighbourhoods. As a result, they are reunited with the social context and references with which they are familiar. Further funding has also been made available for initiatives on food security.
I agree, however, that more should be done in future to make this concept of linking relief, rehabilitation and development more effective. We need to look at ways to translate this concept into concrete outputs on the ground, for instance by making our tools more flexible.
Difficult working environment; funding examples
One year after the earthquake we have achieved some positive results. Yet important needs persist. We are all too aware that the current environment in Haiti is by no means easy. It brings with it many logistical, security and other constraints. What was already a very difficult situation before last year's earthquake became immensely challenging in the earthquake's aftermath. It then became even more complicated, with the triple impact of Hurricane Tomas, the cholera epidemic and political instability. It therefore goes without saying that aid workers and technical experts on the ground have often had to contend with extremely challenging conditions.
It is against this backdrop that the EU has been making good on the EUR 1.2 billion pledge it made in New York. Funding commitments amounting to over half of that pledge have already been forthcoming and half of those commitments have already been spent. In seeking maximum impact for our aid in Haiti we have arrived at a twofold approach.
On the one hand, we have devised new programmes to meet emerging needs. So, for example, the Commission has provided 18.7 M€ to re-house and equip a number of key ministries destroyed in the earthquake and to support local authorities in taking charge of the populations moving from Port-au-Prince to the provinces. We have also invested 14 M€ to strengthen Haitian Civil Protection structures and involve the population in crisis response after natural disasters, inter alia through a first response intervention mechanism at local level.
On the other hand, we have been careful to stick with ongoing programmes that are reaping rewards and adjust them to better respond to revised priorities.
One such readjusted programme is the EU-funded Programme for the Improvement of Quality Education in Haiti. This covers school building or rehabilitation, teacher training and the distribution of school kits and manuals. All in all it supports the schooling of more than 150 000 pupils around the country and trains 3 000 teachers.
I am aware of the criticism about aid delivery. We are doing our very best to get aid to those who need it in very trying circumstances. There is no question of us dragging our feet; indeed, for the most part we are on track in terms of our aid commitments in Haiti and we are pulling out all the stops to speed up implementation.
When it comes to implementation, it is also important to bear in mind that, with medium to long-term reconstruction assistance, projects are spread over 3 to 5 years and payments with them. Also, much of last year was spent on committing funds and launching project preparations, including necessary technical studies. More concrete activities will start this year, with disbursements against the pledge forecast to double, to around 150 million euro.
Joint programming with our Member States covering the new uncommitted funds will also see us make good on our New York pledge. We intend to pursue cooperation in governance, budget support and infrastructure. Our Member States will be active in education, health, water and sanitation and rural development.
Funding levels are, of course, important, and must be at a level that offers adequate relief and assistance. But there is another question that we have been addressing more closely of late. It relates to how that money is spent, where it is spent, by whom and for whom.
Giving aid is, of course, an integral part of our responsibility towards the developing world. But the aid we give has to be spent wisely, in good times and in bad. The extraordinary expression of solidarity with Haiti after the earthquake came not only from the highest political levels, but also from the general public. It enabled the EU to make a significant reconstruction commitment in New York last March. In return, Europe's taxpayers – though rightly supportive of our commitment to poverty alleviation – are also fully entitled to expect value for money, especially in today's harsh economic climate. And how better to guarantee value for money than by putting our partner countries in the driving seat in setting priorities and making sure that the aid gets to those who need it? This why we support the Haitian government's Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti as presented by to the international community in New York. This approach is the ideal means of ensuring that our aid interventions are in line with the government's strategic priorities.
So in critical situations such as we have been facing in Haiti, it is clear that any waste of resources is inexcusable. Inexcusable vis-à-vis our taxpayers. And inexcusable vis-à-vis the millions of Haitians who desperately need our help. It follows that the aid we give and the money we spend can be used efficiently and properly accounted for. For this to happen, the right conditions must be in place.
This is where workable governance arrangements are crucial. At every stage of development cooperation, governance is a constant parameter and a key to success. It is both a cross-cutting issue and a sine qua non in development efforts.
Immediately after the earthquake the EU mobilised funds to strengthen the Haitian Government's capacities, for example through technical assistance to the Ministry of Finance. This support has contributed to re-establishing the expenditure chain and put in place the conditions for resuming quickly general budget support operations of several donors, essential to enable the government to maintain critical expenditure.
Decentralisation is another facet of governance and will without any doubt be a key concept in the reconstruction exercise. It is a pivotal means of ensuring that our development assistance reaches the most remote and vulnerable communities. In this area too we are assisting the government in working on the legal framework for decentralisation on the one hand and directly to support local projects on the other. With this dual approach, the programme can bolster local authorities' capacities to provide basic services to their populations.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Political stability and democratic accountability are prerequisites for reconstruction, growth and poverty reduction in Haiti. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the electoral process is completed within the foreseen timeframe, so that our reconstruction efforts might be accelerated.
The EU will continue to work with Canada and the international community as a whole to bring Haiti out of disaster towards a brighter future. Sadly we know that fragile and crisis situations may arise anywhere in the world. By getting our work together on Haiti right, we will not only be bringing relief and hope to a country that has had more than its fair share of disaster. We will also be showing that we have the right ingredients in place to take effective action together and signalling our determination to act wherever our help is needed.
Haiti's national motto is "L'Union Fait La Force". To some, such a phrase may seem almost a cliché in this context. I would disagree. Working together we can make a difference for the better. I believe we have our actions in Haiti have already gone a long way towards proving that. We can do more, however. And we will.