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Haiti Quake Recovery: A Task for a Generation

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13 January 2011

Colourful house in Haiti

One year after a devastating earthquake hit the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, homes, cities and lives still need to be rebuilt. While the European Union maintains that helping Haiti is a top priority, EU representatives concede in a recent blog that aid "cannot deliver miracles" and the journey to recovery will occupy a generation.

Over the last 12 months, the EU, the largest aid donor to Haiti, already committed around €600 million, which represents more than half of the €1.2 billion it pledged during last March's International Donor's conference. The Commission alone pledged €522 million and has committed €330 million.

An estimated quarter of a million people died in the 12 January disaster and some 1.7 million more were left homeless as the quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, reduced Haiti’s inadequate structures to rubble.

Temporary tents have become permanent dwellings as men, women and children wait to return to homes, towns and villages that still need to be rebuilt.

"However generous and sustained our aid has been, it cannot deliver miracles," EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs explained in his recent blog. "A huge amount remains to be done".

In the immediate aftermath of the tremor, the EU provided humanitarian assistance but at the request of the Haitian government, worked with other donors to sustain the long-term development goals of the country.

Donors are committed to rebuilding Haiti better than it was before the quake. But such an endeavour is "not going to be a five year project" said Kristalina Georgieva EU Commissioner for Development, "it is going to be a generation project".

Haiti is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. In recent years this nation of some 10 million people has struggled with a myriad of problems ranging from near-constant political upheaval, health crises, severe environmental degradation and an annual barrage of hurricanes.

Since last year’s devastation, the political upheaval has continued with a disputed presidential election that prompted homeless quake survivors to demonstrate their fury on the wrecked streets of the capital Port-au-Prince. A run-off ballot to end the stand-off has been postponed.

Today, Oxfam International estimates that less than 5 percent of the earthquake rubble has been cleared so far, while the United Nation’s children’s agency, UNICEF, noted in a recent report that more than 1 million Haitians are still living in camps.

"The current [political and social] instability prevents EU aid to reach the people in need and makes the reconstruction process slower and more complex", Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief explained in a joint statement with Andris Piebalgs and Kristalina Georgieva issued on 11 January.

"One has to realise that a situation that was already very difficult before the earthquake became immensely challenging in the earthquake aftermath and even more complicated later – due to the hurricane Tomas, the cholera epidemics, and the political instability", the EU representatives added. "Aid workers and technical experts often worked in extremely difficult conditions".

Haiti was unique in terms of the complexity of the post-earthquake constraints. The capital was destroyed, the infrastructure was devastated, and the government and humanitarian agencies on the ground lost a lot of staff, resources and facilities.

Upon the request of Haitian authorities, the Commission focused its support on consolidation of the core functions of the State, notably the payment of salaries for teachers, health workers and civil protection, and on reinforcement and reconstruction of strategic infrastructure and roads.

But the continuing misery for Haitians is increasingly spilling over into violence with UN peacekeepers a target for their frustrations. Young men are picking up the rubble of their ruined homes and using them as weapons against foreigners that they believe are not making good on their promises quickly enough.

"Today, we are fully aware that the situation is far from satisfying, and has even worsened in some areas. However, this does not mean that our efforts have been weak or that our money and expertise have gone in vain", reads the EU joint statement. "It is a reality that without EU steadfast support, the country could have totally collapsed and the situation would be much worse."


The European Commission's website contains a wealth of information on Europe's action in Haiti as well as a series of videos presenting the EU's work on the field.

Next week on you can read an interview with an expert working on EU Education projects in Haiti.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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