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6th Mar 2021

Haiti reconstruction at a 'standstill', EU ambassador says

  • Port-au-Prince shortly after the earthquake. Reconstruction efforts have been slow (Photo: Colin Crowley)

A year after a devastating earthquake ripped through the Caribbean state of Haiti, international reconstruction efforts have ground to a halt, plunged into confusion by the country's ongoing political deadlock, the EU's top official on the ground has said.

"A lot of donors have encountered the same problem, we have a standstill of the reconstruction project because everybody is very reluctant to get teams into the country," Lut Fabert-Goosens, EU ambassador to Haiti, told EUobserver in a telephone interview on Thursday evening (27 January).

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An ongoing tussle between Haiti's presidential candidates has also hampered essential humanitarian relief work. "There are people dying unnecessarily, just because there is no medical team to give them the treatment," said Ms Fabert-Goosens.

On 12 January 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter caused widespread destruction in southern Haiti, already one of the world's poorest states, killing over 200,000 people and leaving an estimated 1.7 million without homes.

A subsequent outbreak of cholera in October, unrelated to the earthquake according to Médecins Sans Frontières, is estimated to have caused a further 4,000 deaths to date.

But it is the controversy surrounding a first round of presidential elections in November which has caused the greatest delay in reconstruction efforts, says the EU. Initial counts after the poll suggested Jude Celestin from the ruling Inite party had garnered 7,000 more votes than the popular singer Michel Martelly, securing the government candidate a run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

Within hours of the announcement Haitians took to the streets, leaving five dead and the country in crisis as opposition candidates accused President Rene Preval and the electoral commission of rigging the vote. Since then pressure has grown for Mr Celestin to withdraw his candidacy, with a final decision on which candidates will participate in the presidential run-off expected next week.

"Most of the donors and NGOs have international teams which come to implement projects," said Ms Fabert-Goosens. "Everybody is on standby for the moment because we don't know whether violence will break out or whether we will have a stable counterpart do discuss with."

The uncertainty is also hampering international efforts to move people away from the capital, Port-au-Prince, and back to their original communities.

"We have two big organised camps just outside the capital city. But on top of that, every single open space inside the city is being occupied by camps," said the EU ambassador.

"Most of the people want to stay in the camps because they get some water, they get some medical help, some have schools organised. So you have to provide these basic services in the communities where people come from in order to give them incentives to return."

The EU is one of the largest donors in the relief and reconstruction effort. Immediately after the earthquake struck, member states said they had pledged almost €201 million for emergency relief, with a promise of a further €120 million from the European Commission. Of the commission money, EU officials say €8 million was previously allocated to Haiti, prior to the earthquake.

At a subsequent international donors' conference in New York on 31 March, donors pledged a total of $9.8 billion for medium and long-term reconstruction work, with EU states and institutions contributing €1.23 billion. Of the commission's €522 million contribution, €212 million is completely new funding, with the rest reprogrammed from other areas, say commission officials.

By the end of 2010, EU disbursements for reconstruction had reached €331.9 million, channeled through private sector companies carrying out infrastructure projects, NGOs and money to help the Haitian government meet commitments such as the paying of teachers' salaries.

The sums of money and apparent dearth of EU flags, uniforms and other symbols of origin have prompted a debate back in Brussels over the EU's lack of visibility vis-a-vis other international groups.

"It's true that the EU is not as aggressive in its communication policy as other donors," said Ms Fabert-Goosens.

"The EU is still a difficult concept because people know about the US, Canada, France, Spain, but they still don't make the link between the EU being the 27 member states of Europe," she continued. "That's still something we need to work on."

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