Following the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, the U.S. led a massive international effort to rebuild the shattered country. Billions of dollars were committed to help Haiti “build back better” and stop its dependency on foreign aid. Unfortunately, few people realized the extent of Haiti’s many problems. Now, 2.5 years later, there’s little evidence of the $1.8 billion in aid from the U.S. having made any difference. The priority needs of medicine, bottled water and temporary shelter have been partially met. Meanwhile, projects to help Haiti overcome poverty, like permanent housing and electric plants in Port-au-Prince, have yet to materialize. What went wrong?
- No coordinated leadership between Haiti and the U.S., as well as Haiti’s chronic political instability, stalled approval of crucial construction projects. The projects that were approved were further hampered by bureaucracy.
- Paralysis of the Haitian government delayed approval of projects to the tune of $10 billion from the international community. Rene Preval, president at the time, admitted that he was “paralyzed” after the earthquake. This isn’t surprising, given that his government was nearly wiped out, with 16,000 civil servants killed and most of the ministries in ruins. It was only earlier this year that a fully operational government began to adopt codes, write regulations and sign paperwork.
- Less than 12% of the $988 million donated by the U.S. has been spent on energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. Nearly a quarter went towards debt relief, while $329 million was given to projects, such as HIV/AIDS programs, that were awarded before the disaster and had little to do with recovery.
- Haiti’s substantial debt has swallowed up money meant for rebuilding. So far, the U.S. has spent $245 million in debt relief. Meanwhile, in the last year, the Haitian government has borrowed a total of $657 million for oil imports instead of development projects. According to the International Monetary Fund, Haiti is expected to spend nearly $10 million on clearing those debts in 2013. The U.S. is now providing only grants, not loans. Can President Michel Martelly and his government improve living conditions in Haiti? So far, he has struggled to convince his countrymen to stay and help rebuild, rather than leave the country illegally in search of a better life. For now, “build back better” is an unfulfilled ideal for a country that has seen much tragedy.