Donors’ Pledges to Reconstruct Haiti Come up Empty

Back in March 2010, when the devastating earthquake in Haiti was still making headline news, UN member states pledged over $9 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction – including $5.3 billion for 2010-2011.

A couple of news outlets reported over the weekend that Haiti Reconstruction Fund had received only $352 million in promised funds from donors, of which $335 million had been transferred to the Interim Reconstruction Commission. Of that $335 million, $237 million has been disbursed for 14 reconstruction initiatives. In an operating environment defined by capacity constraint, with a government that struggles to establish its legitimacy, it can already be considered a success that nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been disbursed.

That said, let’s focus on the funding side – what happened between March 2010 and the grandiloquent statements about not leaving Haiti behind, and the reality of meager disbursements? There is no mechanism – other than self-imposed ones – to ensure that donors fulfill their pledges. I raised this possibility last year in a post called “Haiti: A Donor Darling Today, But What About Tomorrow?“.

Since the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, crisis after crisis has captured the world’s attention: the Arab Spring, a new war in Libya, the current famine in East Africa. Domestic politics have taken center stage in many places, including the United States, while Haiti’s tragedy fades into the background. The reconstruction of Haiti will require a multi-year commitment from UN member states, from international organizations, from NGOs. It will also require political leadership from the Haitian president, Michel Martelly.

On the same day that the Haiti Reconstruction Fund Annual Report was released, President Martelly announced plans to reform the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, which oversees the disbursement of donor funds from the Fund. Martelly is struggling to strike a balance between Haitian ownership of reconstruction and proper administration and management of funds. A Martelly advisor said: “The IHRC itself has become this extra entity outside of the government, and that is what we need to fix.”

Whatever the capacity constraints are, donors have a responsibility to fulfill their pledges. Rewinding 18 months, I remember vividly former President Bill Clinton calling not just for Haitian reconstruction, but for a complete overhaul of that country, supported by the generosity of the international community. Today, we’re at the point where the release of the Haiti Reconstruction Funds’ Annual Report doesn’t make the news anymore – only a few outlets like the Financial Times and Relief Web posted items about it. The website for the HRC doesn’t even have a link to the report, not even a press release on the subject.

It’s too easy for the international community to repackage these pledges into pre-existing commitments, especially if no one is holding them to account. The world was genuinely hurting for Haiti last year in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake – let’s not forget our promise of a new dawn for Haiti and its people, and let’s hold to account our governments’ commitments to making it happen.

Photo credit: UNDP photo stream on Flickr