Haiti earthquake anniversary: the state of global disaster relief
On the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, global disaster relief is under the microscope. A $15-billion-a-year industry with 250,000 workers, the stakes are high – but from each tsunami, quake, hurricane, and drought, we learn what works and what doesn't.
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And as recovery plods on, frustration has mounted – aimed at both the government and the international community. Jean Dimanche, a small-grocery salesman who lost his home and shop Jan. 12, is typical in his discontent. He says the Haitian government and aid agencies aren't telling the public what they plan to do with all the money they've received: "We know that money has come from all around the world and we're [grateful], but we don't see how they're using it."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Haiti after the earthquake
In Pictures Haiti: Life in a tent
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Is Ms. Derisier served?
If an observer were to look around Terrain Acra, he might understand many of the frustrations emerging in Haiti. Here, for all the work Fitzgerald and his team have put into the camp, it hasn't changed much in a year.
Mirlande Derisier, a teacher who literally wore the rubber from the soles of her shoes walking Port-au-Prince streets after the quake to check on relatives and friends, many of whom were later found dead, ended up at Terrain Acra.
Though furnished with a wicker sofa, a few books, and a portrait of a close friend who died in the temblor, Ms. Derisier's tarp shelter doesn't feel safe like home. At night as she sleeps on the padded floor, she has lain in motionless fear as thieves sliced her tarp walls, reaching in for anything they could grab and make away with.
Yet she, like others here, has no prospect of leaving anytime soon. There is no housing and no job to return to. She has even less incentive, with services in the camps far superior to those in the neighboring slum where she lived before it was destroyed.
Getting people out of the camps and back to neighborhoods will be the principal goal in the next phase of work in Haiti, and aid workers, once on the front lines of saving lives, now grapple with getting Haitians back on their feet, not stuck in dependence on aid agency water or housing.
Fitzgerald questions how to move forward every day: "We need to start looking at how these services we provide have become magnets that draw people to the camp."
He plans to help bring the community services – like water supply – up to speed, while slowly beginning to charge for services. "We can't start saying camps shouldn't exist until we can say that we've given people a realistic option in their community."
Striking the balance is difficult: Take away services too quickly, and lives are at risk . "We should be realistic about these dates and say to ourselves that a certain number of people are going to be in these camps for three, four, or five years," Fitzgerald says. "Nobody wants to admit that's the reality."
Part of the delay in moving forward in Haiti, as in the wake of other tragedies, is the ideal to "build back better." But that raises its own set of questions, says Walker. "I have to be accountable to the individuals I am assisting. But I also have to be accountable to people I am not assisting. What happens if you have a community, and you take disaster victims ... and they end up better off than the rest of the community? Is that fair and right? Are you accountable to the next generation?"
All of these questions – whether the industry is respecting non-Western standards; remaining neutral in conflict; or letting governments get away with passivity at best, and sometimes even negligence – should remain firmly in the humanitarian consciousness, aid workers say.
"There are certain conflicts that may be extended, attenuated, exacerbated by the existence or nonexistence of aid. We have to continue to examine whether private aid lets a government off the hook, whether it allows governments not to fulfill its responsibilities." says Ambler, of Oxfam.
"We have to ask ourselves, on a case-by-case basis: Is aid part of the problem or part of the solution?