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Foreign governments and international organizations have pledged $600 million to support a plan by Haiti’s interim government to rebuild the country’s southern peninsula, which was struck by a deadly earthquake on August 14, 2021.

What remained of a hospital in the town of Maniche, Haiti, after the Aug. 14 earthquake.

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Foreign governments and international financial institutions pledged $600 million Wednesday in immediate and long-term aid to help Haiti’s cash-strapped government launch a four-year plan to help devastated communities along its southern peninsula recover and rebuild from last August’s deadly earthquake.

Reading the amount off a piece of paper, Prime Minister Ariel Henry described the promised aid as “excellent news,” before expressing his gratitude to the heads of state and leaders of international and regional organizations who gathered in Port-au-Prince and online for his government’s international donor conference.

“This contribution is beyond our expectation,” Henry said.

Henry opened the day-long conference at the Karibe Hotel in Petionville by calling on donors to show solidarity with the people of the south. He unveiled his government’s ambitious plan to repair the damage caused by the Aug. 14 magnitude 7.2 earthquake and help the rural population face the economic consequences of the disaster and withstand future shocks.

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A man stands in front of a damaged school in Corail, Haiti, in the Grand’Anse region. Many structures in this small fishing village were damaged or destroyed by the August 2021 earthquake. Jose A Iglesias [email protected]

Based on an assessment of the losses, the government estimates rebuilding will cost $2 billion. But going into the conference, Haiti government and United Nations officials, who assisted with the event, said they had a goal of $454 million, or about 25%, which would allow them to kick start the rebuilding of hundreds of destroyed and damaged schools, scores of hospitals and health centers and thousands of homes.

“The population of the southern peninsula of Haiti, during the emergency humanitarian response phase and evaluation of the [Post Disaster Needs Assessment] was able to count on the momentum of international solidarity,” Henry said as he opened the conference. “They are recovering little by little from these ordeals. But they need extra help to get back on their feet; now is not the time to let them down.”

Among the new money is $15.3 million from Canada for the region and security matters and an additional $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID money is to fund a new 5-year agreement to build resilience, increase food supplies and bolster the nutrition status of Haitians living in the southern and northeast regions.

Though the $600 million is less than the overall $2 billion, it’s still a positive sign, given Haiti’s precarious political situation and donors’ history of withholding funding to past transitional governments even after disasters.

After Hurricane Matthew struck the same region in 2016 and created $2 billion in damages, provisional President Jocelerme Privert struggled to get international aid as the country faced a fiscal and economic crisis. Not only was there little budget support for the transitional government, but there were no discussions with international financing institutions over much-needed programs. Privert later announced that Haiti would finance its elections itself.

In her opening remarks, U.N. Deputy Secretary Amina Mohammed told donors that now was not the time for Haiti fatigue.

“We have heard, loud and clear, concerns about the results of aid in Haiti. But this is not the time to give up,” Mohammed said. “First, because the people of Haiti never give up. Time and time again, they mourn their losses, and then they pick themselves up and put their lives back together. Second, because Haiti is again at a crossroads. Years of investment in stability and development must be protected. And national institutions are ready to lead.”

Mohammed commended the “strong government leadership” in providing emergency relief to 600,000 people in partnership with communities and international stakeholders and endorsed its Southern Peninsula Integrated Recovery Plan, which she said offered “a very clear path ahead.”

“It draws on the lessons learned from the responses to the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016,” said Mohammed, adding that the plan is an opportunity to shift focus to prevention, risk reduction and resilience to future shocks.

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Already battered by Hurricane Matthew five years ago, Boucan Noël was struck by Haiti’s August 14, 2021 earthquake. Jacqueline Charles [email protected]

“It focuses on the structural causes, rather than the symptoms of disasters. It looks at this crisis as an opportunity to invest in the local economy and communities. As an opportunity to invest in national capacities, both in the public and the private sectors,” she said. “It recognizes that affected communities must be front and center of decisions that affect their lives, but also their livelihoods. Within those communities, women and girls must be agents of their own recovery.”

This is not the first time that donors have offered to come to Haiti’s rescue after devastation, and the real proof of donors’ commitment will be whether they hold true to their promises. After the 2010 earthquake, donors at a conference in New York clamored to announce their pledges to help the country rebuild. But an analysis on the 10th anniversary of the quake by the office of Dr. Paul Farmer, the former special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general, showed that billions of dollars in pledges were still unaccounted for.

An analysis also showed that very little had gone directly to the Haitian government, and even less went to Haitian businesses and organizations.

Those involved in Wednesday’s conference say they are not looking to repeat the mistakes of the past, and noted that unlike in 2010, the Haitian government was the driver of the conference, with the U.N. providing help.

Still, concerns about Haiti’s use of aid was evident in the room, as donors announced the funds would go through U.N. agencies, international aid organizations and programs supported by non-governmental organizations. Other funds will be controlled by a donor trust fund. Some nations said they were holding off on new contributions until conditions were right, while the European Union announced that its contribution of 30.4 million euros could be increased with progress on the political front.

Since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti has seen its political, social and economic problems worsen as gangs have extended their grip on the country and political groups fight for control of the government.

The quake, which struck five weeks after Moïse’s murder, exacerbated an already difficult situation. According to the U.N., 1 in 4 Haitians, or 4.4 million people, were facing acute food shortages early last year. Today, that number is now is at 4.9 million.

Meanwhile, the country continues to be rattled by a surge in violence that has hampered the response to the earthquake, as warring gangs make it impossible for individuals to cross the southern entrance of Port-au-Prince without risking being kidnapped or killed. Elsewhere, families are being forced deeper into poverty by a kidnapping wave that is fueling a decline in visitors, the shuttering of businesses and the payment of ransoms by those already living on the brink.

With negative growth, high inflation and the domestic currency continuing its depreciation, pressure is growing on the government to respond.

As representatives of foreign government and financial institutions waited for Wednesday’s conference to start, police were firing tear gas after clashing along the Delmas area with protesting factory workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage, from 500 gourdes or roughly $5 a day to 1,500 gourdes or $15 a day.

Adding to the economic woe, is the government’s own precarious situation. For the fourth time in 36 years, the country is once again in a transition without an elected president or parliament at its helm. Henry, who was tapped by Moïse to be prime minister a month before his murder, is facing calls to step down by an opposition coalition made up of civil society, grassroots activists and powerful politicians. They have cited the official end of Moïse’s presidential term earlier this month, and others have pointed to suspicions about Henry’s ties to one of the presumed assassins.

The multiple crises were not lost on donors, like the government of Norway, which after pledging $6 million called for a political dialogue between Haitians so that they can address the country’s challenges.

This story was originally published February 16, 2022 7:31 PM.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.