The False Hopes of the Reconstruction
by PELEG CHARLES from OXFAM
It’s Monday morning, nine o’ clock. Between 400 and 450 pupils are struggling to follow the lessons given by their teachers at the Institution Frère Acade, in the commune of Carrefour to the south of Port-au-Prince. This school was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake, and now its walls and roofs are tarpaulins, which cannot protect the children from the sun and rain.
Perhaps the people of Haiti, its civil society, and the members of the government of the time did not understand that the promises were aimed not so much at a physical reconstruction of the country, but a change in the essence of Haiti! False hope!
In spite of the promises by countries friendly towards Haiti, unfortunately the reconstruction effort has been spearheaded by the private business sector. The Haitian state is still not showing sufficient dynamism when it come to taking the lead. Such symbolically important buildings as the presidential palace or the courts of justice still stand as sad reminders for the relatives of some 250,000 victims.
Yes, a false hope because we have gone back to a situation where everyone tries to save themselves, while thousands of ordinary Haitians continue to flounder in the same terrible conditions they were living in only a few hours before the earthquake. Or worse, when we see that some children are forced to go to schools covered by tarpaulins despite the heat, and that others still do not have a roof over their heads despite the terrible climatic conditions, it is obvious that much remains to be done.
As more than one commentator has predicted, the international community is no longer concerned about Haiti, even though the needs are still there. The NGOs, who helped both with their expertise and their financial contributions, are struggling to mobilise the donors in order to launch projects that could rekindle the possibility of change in the living conditions of those Haitians still desperately in need.
This idea of change became the battle cry in the recent electoral contest, and gave rise to hopes in the whole population – everyone interpreting it in relation to the immediate needs of their level of society. Some want access to land, others simply to have their essential necessities met – access to food, water, housing, education; but above all paid work. Other groups want a change in agricultural policy, with more land made available, more credit, markets for their produce. Women want a change in regard to their participation in the sphere of political decision-making.
The entire country still holds its breath at the first rain-drop, because the effects of climate change, added to the flagrant lack of any sanitary infrastructure, including sewage systems, all go to make us extremely vulnerable. If the effects of cholera and the earthquake will remain imprinted on the memory of our people, we must also unfortunately admit that they were the spectacles that revealed to us our weakness and passivity even faced with the most blatant outrages.
The Frère Acade school has benefitted from the building of a latrine block by OXFAM as part of their cholera prevention programme, but the school is still at risk. ‘The construction of an adequate complex to house the school remains a priority for our local organisation, but the fact is that up to now we have not had the funds,’ complains Frantzy Noel, head of CODSECA ( Development Committee of the 11th communal district in Carrefour).
NGOs such as OXFAM where I work have redoubled their efforts to create the hope of a renaissance in Haiti, but faced with so many needs, their actions are not enough to give a new direction to the destiny of a people lacking everything. The challenge for them, for the Haitian state, for civil society, for the United Nations’ organizations, and others, is to work together to reduce the vulnerability of each and every Haitian as they embark on the construction of a fairer, more equitable society.