Haiti: Commitments too long deferred?

By Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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It's only human nature that after the shock wears off and the initial wave of donations in response to a natural disaster subside, attention drifts elsewhere. Unfortunately in this world there are all too many crises, natural and otherwise, crying out for attention. The international response to Haiti has mostly followed this predictable path with diminishing international attention after the immediate disaster response. There has certainly been some attempt made to turn the January 12 earthquake, which claimed the lives of as many as 230,000 and left more than 1 million homeless, into an opportunity to not just see the victim but rethink the civic and economic life of this impoverished Caribbean nation while restoring, even enhancing its infrastructure. But six months later the news out of Haiti is not encouraging.

While the worst-case scenarios of disease and scarcity-inspired disorder have failed, thankfully, to materialize, the conditions for most of those affected by the earthquake remain profoundly difficult. Lack of shelter, malnutrition and severe unemployment still stalk average Haitians. "Nothing has changed in six months. There are still no jobs and no solid shelter," Gilbert Gregory, a father of three told the Christian Science Monitor. "By now people are used to living in the camps but it's because they have no choice, not because it's a good situation. The government didn't take any responsibility, all this aid came in, but nothing happened with it. It's difficult to swallow."

Much grandiose posturing followed in the wake of the disaster, but now Haitians need more than big talk and empty commitments. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies , just 2 percent of $5.3 billion promised in near-term aid by governments at a UN conference in March, about $50 million, has actually been delivered. CNN reports that only four countries have paid anything at all into the U.N. administered relief fund: Brazil, Norway, Estonia and Australia. In March, the United States pledged $1.15 billion. So far, however, it has paid nothing into the fund, with the promised cash tied up in congressional appropriations committees.

Private charities like Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders have done much better, spending millions that they've raised on emergency response efforts. But now long-term programs aimed to address Haiti's various miseries, which predate the earthquake, should come into proper focus and for that to happen the big money from the international community's large donors has to start to flow into the recovery effort. The commitments have been made; it's time to cut the checks.