Zahar: $5 billion later and 500,000 Haitians still live in tents. Why?

By: /
25 January, 2012
By: Marie-Joëlle Zahar
Professor of political science, Université de Montréal

The situation in Haïti two years after the earthquake cannot be explained by simply looking at or blaming one actor. True, the international community has been better at emergency relief than reconstruction. True, the multiplication of international interveners has highlighted problems of coordination and the lack of a master plan. True also, the political situation in the country with the various tensions around the holding of presidential elections, the results of the first round, and the installation of President Martelly have contributed to slowing down the process for lack of a local partner to engage the international community. True as well, Haïtian elites have not yet decided to take a chance on their country preferring to invest in import goods rather than production structures, in international funds rather than in the Haïtian treasury and so on and so forth. But, at the core, the situation in Haïti illustrates our seeming collective ability not to learn the lessons of past intervention. Repeated episodes of fragility and breakdown (whether manmade or not) sap the resilience of states; the later we intervene (waiting for the next crisis to strike) the less our chances of success. The situation in Haïti also illustrates another lesson not learned: assistance to fragile states must be guided by a logic of appropriateness. $5 billion later, the Haïtian police and the judiciary have been provided with state-of-the-art technology including but not limited to computers. Recipients sometimes do not know how and often cannot use the glittering gadgets put at their disposal. Whereas shiny new computers sit in temporary office spaces in a country where power is still severely rationed, a half million people are still living in tents.

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