Funding delays, housing complexities slow Haiti rebuilding effort

Despite an outpouring of international aid since Jan. 12, an estimated 1.3 million people -- 15 percent of the population -- remain homeless.
By William Booth and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 12:45 AM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Yolette Pierre says thank you, America. She points to the plastic over her head, to a gray sack on the dirt floor, to a bucket in the corner. Thank you for the tarp. Thank you for the rice. Thank you for the water, too.

She is as sincere as she is poor.

The $3.5 billion in international relief spent after the worst natural disasterin a generation succeeded in its main mission.

"We kept Haitians alive," said Nigel Fisher, chief of the U.N. humanitarian mission.

Now the really hard part begins.

To weary Haitians such as Pierre, mired in a fetid camp, hoping to sweep away the tons of earthquake rubble and remake broken lives, the wait for $6 billion in rebuilding money promised in March by the United States and other donor nations is more than frustrating. It is almost cruel.

Ten months after the earthquake left more than a million people homeless, only a small fraction of that recovery money has been put into projects that Haitians can see.

Of the $6 billion pledged for 2010 and 2011 at the U.N. donors conference in March, $2 billion has been committed, but only $732 million has been disbursed. Much of that money has gone to rebuild the government of Haiti: paying salaries, plugging in computers, erecting large white air-conditioned tents.

The delays in reconstruction reflect bureaucratic red tape in donor nations and the complexity of rebuilding the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, which had little infrastructure, a snarled land-title system and a barely functioning government before the disaster. One-third of the government's employees and most of its buildings were lost in the earthquake, which killed 300,000. A recent cholera epidemic has killed hundreds more.

Robert Perito, a Haiti expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the emergency response went well. "The reason for that is, we're really good at it. . . . We have all this capacity, these wonderful teams that deploy. It's nonpolitical. It's humanitarian. There's not a lot of decisions to be made."

In contrast, reconstruction is all about deciding where and what to build. "This is a classic conundrum in development theory," he said. "It's called the development gap: How do you fill the gap between the emergency phase and the long-term development phase?"

The U.S. government has provided more than $1 billion in relief assistance to Haiti. It pledged $1.15 billion more at the March meeting, which includes $917 million for Haiti's redevelopment. The rest is debt relief.

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