The rebuilding process for Haiti, a country so torn and tattered even before the life-altering earthquake of 2010 has been and will continue to be a long process. Three years after the horrific event, Haiti has been slowly rebuilding but the work is far from done. It will take many years to create better infrastructure, a stable economy and a better standard of living for the Haitian people.
In 2010, seeing the need to relieve all of Haiti’s debt and to create an opportunity for Haitians to rebuild in the aftermath, Jubilee USA Network set to action to cancel Haiti’s debts. With key partners, (ONE, Avaaz and Oxfam) Jubilee USA Network delivered 400,000 petitions calling for debt cancellation and grants, rather than loans, for Haiti. More than 80 U.S. faith, labor and human rights organizations, as well as 94 Members of Congress, sent letters to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner urging him to negotiate debt cancellation. Jubilee USA Network also called on President Obama to press international lending agencies to make grants, not loans and to place a moratorium on all debt payments. With Chairman Barney Frank and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, we pushed for and won full debt cancellation from the Inter American Development Bank and the World Bank for Haiti in the amount of $1.2 billion, allowing the country to focus on rebuilding rather than repaying.[i] Not only was this debt cancellation a huge step in the right direction for Haiti, it also created a new mindset to give grants, not loans.
At the end of 2011, Haiti had a debt burden at $657 million mainly from Venezuela (71% of total nominal debt) and a small amount from the IMF (4%). Others include China (14%), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (10%) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (2%).[ii] Although Haiti’s debt is mainly accumulating with low-interest rates and spread over a long period of time, there must be caution that their debt burden does not become unsustainable.
Today, some 360,000 people are still estimated to be living in the 1,300 plus Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps three years after the earthquake. These camps are not even close to livable conditions as a reporter notes in his experience on a research trip to the camp of Noailles,
“On the morning following a rainstorm it is common to find large pools of standing, muddy water – often stretching 20 yards – over which mosquitoes, flies and other potential disease vectors circle overhead…. almost all the children had a rash on their bodies because of the heat that is trapped inside the tents combined with the other disease vectors.”[iii]
To tackle this issue, the U.S. government is building over 900 seismic and hurricane resistant houses in Caracol, northern Haiti and in Cabaret north of Port-au-Prince and to date, 227 Haitian beneficiaries have been selected to receive housing.[iv] This is a small step in a bigger initiative made by the World Bank in September 2012. The strategy plans to have, by fall 2014, 45,000 people returned to safer housing and 125,000 people living in upgraded neighborhoods. Although this is a step in the right direction, this would leave over 190,000 Haitians still waiting for a livable place that they could call home four years after the earthquake.
After the 2010 earthquake there was progress on increased crop yields but that has likely been undone by Hurricane Sandy’s catastrophic impact at the end of 2012, which left 1.5 million people food insecure, according to the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.[v] Haiti was only skimmed by Sandy's tail, but its dire infrastructure and high levels of deforestation magnified the damage and number of casualties. Sandy’s death toll reached 54 and tens of thousands have been left homeless. In just four days, south and southwest Haiti was soaked by 50cm of rain, equivalent to almost an average year's worth in London. Some victims were washed away when rivers burst their banks. Others died in accidents caused by the storm. One family of five – a mother and her four children – were crushed when the roof of their home collapsed in Grand-Goâve.[vi] The greatest loss of life may still be to come as the country struggles to cope with the accumulated impacts of earthquakes and hurricanes which have devastated housing and crops.
The country also faces devastation in the form of cholera. When cholera arrived in Haiti two years ago, it spread through communities quickly, killing some of the most vulnerable people in just one day. In mid-October 2010, staff at Zanmi Lasante, Partners in Health’s sister organization, saw the first case of cholera in the town of Mirebalais. Since then, the outbreak has killed more than 7,500 people, sickened more than 600,000 and become one of the world’s largest epidemics in recent history.[vii]
The work and support that Haiti needs is far from fulfilled. With the standard of living, the economy and healthcare at disappointing levels, there is more work to be done. It will become increasing hard to tackle building a better way of life for the Haitian people if their debt becomes unsustainable and their much needed revenue is spent paying back creditors rather than on social investments.
[i] Jubilee USA, “Haiti,” http://www.jubileeusa.org/resources/debt-resources/country-reports/action-haiti.html
[ii] Staffs of the International Monetary Fund and the International Development Association, “HAITI
Joint Bank-Fund Staff Debt Sustainability Analysis 2012,” February 23, 2012. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/dsa/pdf/2012/dsacr1274.pdf
[iii] Mark Schuller, “Haiti’s Disaster after the Disaster: The IDP Camps and Cholera,” December 13, 2010, http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/869
[iv] Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator, “Report to Congress: Assessment of the U.S. Government Haiti Rebuilding and Development Strategy,” January 23, 2013, http://www.state.gov/s/hsc/rpt/203148.htm
[v] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Haiti: Emergency Revision of the 2012 Consolidated Appeal - Needs arising from the impact of Hurricane Sandy,” November 12, 2012, http://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/haiti-emergency-revision-2012-consolidated-appeal-needs-arising-impact-hurricane-sandy
[vi] Jonathen Watts, “Hurricane Sandy: Haiti in emergency aid plea as disaster piles upon disaster,” October 30, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/30/hurricane-sandy-haiti-emergency-aid
[vii] Partners In Heath, “HAITI’S CHOLERA EPIDEMIC REACHES TWO-YEAR MARK,” October 24, 2012,