Eleven years down, and Haiti is still struggling to recover from the January 12, 2010 earthquake. More than 300,000 people lost their lives, thousands others were injured, and almost 1.5 million were left homeless. Despite billions of dollars being spent in the Caribbean country, it still hasn’t recovered from the disaster. In our view, the main factors that facilitated the enormity of the disaster were; the weak Haitian public institutions, poor disaster management, and the disorganization of international aid, especially from NGOs.
Weak Haitian institutions
Haiti being vulnerable to earthquakes, they have been managed by the military. Historically, the military has been playing a critical role in the country’s development and natural disaster management. The then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disassembled the national army but did not consider transferring the army’s natural disaster management know-how to other civilian public institutions.
In fact, an excellent deal of skills was completely lost. Although several existing government bodies had tried to develop skills related to earthquakes management, no operational institution could do it like the military. Today, Haiti remains at risk of natural disasters.
Haiti’s government instability over the past decades has worsened the situation. The weak central administration was not able to manage and control the country’s territory. For instance, the capital Port-au-Prince is originally meant to have 3,000 people but was a city of almost a million residents. Today, we can only see that nothing has been done about it. We can also note that the government has shown its incapability in decentralizing and developing the rural environment.
The city and its neighborhoods are densely populated. There are no logical urban planning rules to impose standards and oppose the lawless constructions that lead to overcrowding in the city. This implies that any major earthquake could be disastrous, just like the previous one.
Another issue: in 2010, the public administration was busy collecting taxes on the property without thinking of how to manage the territory. It has never been able to foresee the impacts of an earthquake. Overcrowding, lack of urban development policies, insufficient resources and skills to intervene in emergencies are the major problems of Haitian administration.
Disorganization of NGOs
The disorganization of international aids aggravates the weakness of Haiti’s public administration. According to a decree adopted in 1989, responsibility for the operations of NGOs in the Republic of Haiti was entrusted to the Ministry of Planning and External Co-operation (MPCE). After the disaster outcomes, many studies showed that thousands of NGOs were present in the country. However, on MPCE official report, only 300 were recognized. Then it can be concluded that the majority of these NGOs were insignificant.
We have seen on the ground that the international assistance stationed in the country immediately after the disaster did not meet a humanitarian problem of such extent. Generally, there was a lack of coordination in the interventions of friendly nations in optimizing the efforts on behalf of the affected people.
In 2012, we noted that most of the NGOs went to Haiti to fulfill their own interests rather than respond to the needs of the Haitian government. The former president of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Dr. Joanne, reported on the same. There was no coordination between the NGOs themselves and with the government. Although UN forces stationed with MINUSTAH were on the ground, the troops were separated and operated under conflicting values. Their help was insufficient and harmful. The reality of this observation is stressed by the scandal of the reintroduction of cholera in Haiti.
The aftermath of the Earthquake
Five years after the tragedy, debris was still lying in the streets, a lot of people were still homeless and living in refugee camps, and the majority of public buildings had not been reconstructed. All of this shows the lack of coordination in the country.
Eleven years later, the challenges are still too much for Haiti as it has to make construction policies that will enhance effective urban planning. It must reconstruct the destroyed archives of public institutions and help post-earthquake administration learn from the past, develop and implement a good disaster management plan.
Today, international development projects are concerned with wealth accumulation, prioritizing the interests of the private sector. For example, Canada’s initiatives to offer its help to the development of the mining sector and free-trade zones and its decision to freeze funding for new projects in Haiti raises several questions.
From the context, the troubling question is whether the Haitian government and the international community have learnt a lesson from the disaster.