Sunday, January 11, 2015

Despite Tight Budget, Canadian Aid to Haiti Will Continue

Men carry water in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after a powerful earthquake hit the country on January 12, 2010. AP
Terry Pedwell The Canadian PressCanada urged the Haitian government on Thursday to call elections soon, as the Caribbean nation teetered yet again on the brink of collapse.

But while Haiti tries to resolve a mounting political crisis, Canadian officials say aid money will continue to flow to help rebuild a nation still struggling with the devastation of a deadly earthquake five years ago.

Canada has been reviewing its aid commitment to Haiti for nearly a year and says problems persist with co-ordination of aid efforts, largely as a result of a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of the Haitian government.

“Yes, we have a strategic review going on, but our support to Haiti hasn’t stopped,” said a Foreign Affairs official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Ongoing projects are going on, humanitarian assistance is still being provided.”

But the Harper government has concerns about how Haitian authorities track aid efforts and whether they are providing the best benefit to the Haitian people — and whether Canadian taxpayers are getting the best bang for the buck.

Haitian Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume was named interim prime minister last month following several weeks of protests.

Her predecessor, Laurent Lamothe, resigned after a special commission issued a report urging his departure amid widespread allegations of corruption.

But a permanent replacement for Duperval Guillaume must be approved by Haiti’s parliament before its mandate expires at midnight on Monday.

Coincidentally, that is the fifth anniversary of the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

The United States and other countries, along with the United Nations, have also urged Haitian lawmakers to get their act together and call national elections.

“Canada along with other donor (nations) have encouraged the (Haitian) government to resolve the political issues that are at play,” said an official in Ottawa.

“And we are hoping that there’ll be elections soon.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Much of its capital, Port au Prince, was levelled by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed tens of thousands.

Death toll estimates following the disaster have ranged from 230,000 to more than 300,000 people.

Since then, many Haitians have struggled to find the most basic of necessities, including food and clean drinking water.

Canada has contributed $1.4 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Haiti since 2006 — about $850 million of that since 2010.

Five years after the earthquake, the Canadian Red Cross says the record of what’s been achieved through donations from individuals, companies, provincial governments and the Canadian government is impressive.

It received $222 million in donations in the days and months following the massive tremblor and the money has allowed for a sustained effort, the agency said in a statement.

“Some five million people have received Red Cross assistance, which means one in two people in Haiti have been helped,” noted Conrad Sauve, the organization’s CEO and secretary-general.

The Red Cross said the recovery effort has provided some 19,000 families — or 95,000 people — with either a temporary shelter or financial assistance for housing.

The agency pointed out that a significant portion of its effort has focused on the health-care system, which was severely affected by the disaster.

Those activities have included rebuilding the hospital in Jacmel and restoring services at four health centres that serve a population of 600,000.

Sauve said nearly 90 per cent of the Canadian Red Cross funding has already been spent and two-thirds of the remainder, or $28 million, is earmarked for sustainable health-care initiatives.

The other third will be used mainly to strengthen the Haitian Red Cross and improve its disaster response capacity.

He described the effort as “the biggest operation ever carried out by the Red Cross movement in a single country.”

There is concern that all of that effort could be undermined by further political upheaval.

Frustrated by their plight and a seemingly stalemated political situation, demonstrators in several Haitian cities have taken to the streets in recent months, accusing the government of corruption.

If elections are not called by Monday, parliament will shut down, leaving the country without a functioning government until presidential elections in late 2015.

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