Decade after Haiti’s big quake, president says aid system needs overhaul

Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview with Reuters at the National Palace of Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Valerie Baeriswyl

The international aid system is deeply flawed and needs an overhaul, Haitian President Jovenel Moise said on Saturday, almost 10 years since the impoverished Caribbean island nation was struck by one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

International organizations pledged billions of dollars in aid after the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, though its use has since come under intense scrutiny from experts; only a fraction of it went directly to the Haitian government.

Experts blame bad governance, excessive bureaucracy, waste and inflated contracts that were given mostly to foreign companies for the lack of progress, which was hampered further by corruption and political power struggles.

“There is a serious problem with the methodology,” Moise told Reuters in an interview at the National Palace, during which he repeatedly criticized how donors handled aid to Haiti.

Moise, a former banana exporter who took office in 2017, said recipient countries know their needs best and should have a greater say in how aid is spent.

“There has been no credible, long-term policy as to what to do with this money,” Moise said, faulting donors and Haiti’s weak institutions.

“It’s a lot of money, and I don’t know what has been done with it,” Moise said, adding that the government had little say over how the money would be spent. Moise said some improvements have been made but that more needs to be done.

The 7.0 magnitude quake killed tens of thousands of people and left many more homeless; estimates of the number of dead vary widely, from below 100,000 to as high as 316,000, the official government figure.

While there is also no consensus as to how much aid Haiti received from international organizations in recent years – or what really constituted aid – most estimates put the number at above $10 billion.

The damage from the earthquake is still clearly visible across the capital and even the walls and structures at the entrance of the National Palace, whose classical cupola sank.

Since taking office, Moise said his administration has been working to improve collaboration not only among Haitian institutions but also international bodies to ensure that money would be more effectively spent in the future.

Moise, who himself is under pressure to resign almost three years into his five-year term, or to hold early elections, recognized that Haiti’s most pressing problem were its weak institutions. Haiti has had 15 presidents in the past 33 years.

Haiti is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, exposed to natural disasters including storms, floods, droughts, and earthquakes.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated the island. Still reeling from the effects of natural disasters, Haiti suffers from slow economic growth, high inflation and shortages of fuel and food.

Even so, Moise said he would not hold early elections. “The current situation is an opportunity to stop the permanent crisis,” he said.

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