Relief agency slams Haiti quake recovery "quagmire"

PORT-AU-PRINCE Wed Jan 5, 2011 7:04pm EST

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Reconstruction has barely begun in Haiti a year after its catastrophic earthquake, a leading international charity said on Wednesday in a report sharply critical of a recovery commission led by former President Bill Clinton.

There was a tremendous outpouring of support from around the world after the January 12 quake that devastated much of the poor Caribbean country's capital, Port-au-Prince, killing about a quarter of a million people and leaving more than a million homeless.

But the report by UK-based Oxfam, while acknowledging that disaster recovery can be slow even in developed countries, said efforts in Haiti had been paralyzed by a lack of leadership from the Haitian government and the international community.

"As Haitians prepare for the first anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million people are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed," the report said.

Money is part of the problem, Oxfam said. The report cited U.N. figures showing that less than 45 percent of the $2.1 billion pledged for Haiti's reconstruction during 2010 at an international donor conference in New York in March had actually been disbursed.

More importantly, however, the report said a reconstruction commission chaired by Clinton and Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive had fallen short in many crucial areas.

"So far, the commission has failed to live up to its mandate," it said. "The commission is a key element for reconstruction and it must cut through the quagmire of indecision and delay."

Set up as the main disaster management body in April, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) was supposed to improve coordination of international aid projects, build state capacity for their implementation and bring donors and government actors together to lead the reconstruction.

The commission has met only a few times since it was formed, however, and the report said it was plagued by "often contradictory policies and priorities" and needed to do far more to adequately consult and communicate its role and decisions to the Haitian people.

POOR PLANNING

In one glaring example of poor planning, the report said money had been made available for temporary housing, but almost no funds had been allocated for rubble removal. That's despite the fact that the quake, which destroyed 105,000 homes and damaged 208,000, left 20 million cubic meters of rubble.

Without debris removal, housing construction cannot begin in earnest and Oxfam said the volume of quake rubble in Haiti could fill enough dump trucks, parked bumper to bumper, to reach more than halfway around the globe.

"Major stakeholders, including Bill Clinton, should urgently review the workings of the IHRC and speed up delivery of its mandate," the Oxfam report said.

United Nations and Haitian government officials have called repeatedly for patience with reconstruction, and Oxfam said countless lives had been saved thanks to humanitarian efforts to provide water, sanitation, shelter, food and other vital assistance to millions of people affected by the earthquake.

In the short term, however, Oxfam said it was difficult to be optimistic about progress in the shattered nation.

Haiti is currently locked in political limbo following a disputed presidential election on November 28, adding to chronic instability, and a national cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 3,400 people since mid-October, shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

That points to what some critics have described as another abject failure of the humanitarian relief system.

Dr. Unni Karunakara, president of the International Council of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), asked in an opinion column late last month in Britain's Guardian newspaper why so many Haitians, in a country filled to overflowing with as many as 12,000 foreign aid groups, had died of a disease that is easily treated and controlled.

Karunakara said MSF and a brigade of Cuban doctors were treating hundreds of patients every day, but few other agencies seemed to be implementing critical cholera control measures, such as chlorinated water distribution and waste management.

"In the 11 months since the quake, little has been done to improve sanitation across the country, allowing cholera to spread at a dizzying pace," he said.

(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman)

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