Haiti’s salvation won’t come from private corporations who are too busy ripping off their piece of the reconstruction cake. Speaking of which, it does make me scoff to hear the word « reconstruction » and Haiti in the same sentence. Rebuilding P-O-P is a tall tale that is just as believable as the three little pigs tale. But in this Caribbean version, the last pig, who built something strong enough to withstand the big bad wolf’s attacks, is nowhere to be found.
Haiti is missing three key elements to rebuild anything in a sustainable way, meaning buildings that won’t come down after the next natural catastrophe:
1. Actual physical land. How will they get rid of the 20 million tons of rubble left in the quake’s aftermath? They barely got rid of 1.25% of it in six months. At this rate it would take 40 years to rid this phantom city of its rubble.
2. Legally available land. Before the quake, real estate ownership was already an extremely sore point. Kim Ives of Haïti Liberté wrote on HaitiRewored.com : « The earthquake reveals that the principal fault-line in Haiti is not geological but one of class. A small handful of rich families own large tracts of land in suburban Port-au-Prince hich would be ideal for resettling the displaced thousands. The lands are located near the city, often with water and some trees, and are largely undeveloped. However, these same families control the Haitian government and, more importantly, have great influence in the newly formed 26-member Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti (CIRH), co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Thirteen of the CIRH directors represent multilateral banks like the IMF, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank and donor nations like the U.S., France and Canada. The other thirteen members represent Haiti’s elite . » ((http://haitirewired.wired.com/profiles/blogs/haiti-liberte-land-issues))
Over the years a few families have managed to illegally appropriate land and they now intend to have the MINUSTAH (UN specialized battalion who’s been keeping peace in Haiti for years) and the US army (there are still 11,000 GIs over there) enforce their “legal” rights and kick out people who settled in makeshift camps here and there. ((http://haitirewired.wired.com/profiles/blogs/haiti-liberte-land-issues)) . Moreover, land ownership registries were widely criticized by the population and now they just plain disappeared. Even if they still existed…. Illiteracy affects 50% of Haitians and statistically including policemen, most of them are rumored to not even be able to read ownership deeds. So who will control land ownership?
3. Earthquake resistant building codes. Haiti had none in place. ((http://www.caee.uottawa.ca/)) Will they be imposed and checked this time? By which architects and engineers? Moreover, Haiti being extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, rebuilding should be done according to cyclonic building codes ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane-proof_building#Examples_of_Cyclonic_Construction_Methods)). If it had not been done in the past ten years what are the chances it will be this time? Who will do it? Halliburton? Haiti is a hotbed of violent geological and weather conditions. Do you remember the Gonaïves? From Jeanne to Hanna, each hurricane has left hundreds of victims in its wake. There will be more hurricanes, more tropical storms and probably more quakes before P-O-P is rebuilt. « Let’s take the example of the four hurricanes in 2008 and compare Cuba to Haïti. La Havana has taken proper initiatives, the population there is trained. In Haïti, this does not exist (four deaths in Cuba, 800 in Haïti – NDLR). Natural catastrophes must be planned for, especially in tropical regions. » .
The real matter at hand is that before the quake, Haïti was already in deep shit. I know it’s vulgar but it’s true 3 : Massive deforestation has turned a territory covered by 50% forests to less than 2% ; complete dependence on coal energy and no concrete investment to develop alternative energy sources like solar or wind power ; massive rural exodus towards the capital, a trend reversed after the earthquake as people fled P-O-P ; a growing dependence on imported US food and free NGOs provided rice four and finally a population density and an infant mortality rates double that of neighboring Dominican Republic.
Let’s not forget the most important point: a phantom government elected by less than 5% of the population. Inefficient, corrupted government where women are grossly underrepresented (last numbers were at 4% of women in the parliament).
Haitians are in the first little pig’s house and not one of us seem to be able to help them build anything else more sustainable than make-shift shelters that tumble as soon as it rains. Several voices have started to rise in Haiti about the lack of coordination which has already cost so much to this Republic of NGOs.
So should we keep giving? To be continued …
Photos: Scott Weinstein