Haiti, three years later

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The massive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, left around 250,000 people dead, and more than one million survivors displaced. In the weeks and months that followed, governments from around the world, and millions of individual donors, all pitched in to raise billions of dollars to help with the relief efforts.

But three years later, reconstruction has barely started. And what rebuilding has taken place hasn't impressed journalist and author Jonathan Katz, who was on the ground in Haiti when the earthquake happened and stayed behind to observe the recovery efforts.

"The homes that people are moving back into are only repaired, they haven't been improved," he told CBC News recently. "They have the same lack of reinforcing ... the same shoddy kind of concrete that crumbled so easily in the earthquake."

In addition to this, nearly 350,000 Haitians are still living in makeshift, deteriorating camps -- that's about 10 per cent of the population of Canada.

Why has there been so little progress?

In Katz's new book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, the former Associated Press correspondent levels a critique at the international aid system.

"The main thing that happened was that the international community kept doing aid and development in the same ways they had been done in the years and decades before the earthquake, and that is going around governments, going around national institutions, giving money to their own government's agencies, and to NGOs from their own countries and from other powerful countries. That helped weaken institutions in Haiti. What ends up happening is that there's no one on the ground with the capacity and the capability to help themselves and then there's very little progress made."

Billions of dollars pledged to Haiti never actually made it to the hands of Haitians themselves, with money going to cover costs of planning relief effort logistics, repairs to helicopters and ships. Money also went to cover charities' operating costs, and some governments were reluctant to send pledged foreign aid dollars to the Haitian government out of worry that the country's governing institutions are dysfunctional and lacking in accountability.

big-truck-katz-cover-120.jpgCanada's Minister of International Co-operation, Julian Fantino, recently expressed concern over the slow progress of development in Haiti and suggested to a Montreal newspaper that he wanted to freeze future aid to the country until there was greater transparency from the Haitian government. The remarks generated a lot of debate, with officials from the UN and the U.S. State Department reacting with dismay. The Canadian International Development Agency later explained that a freeze isn't in place, but the organization will be reviewing Canada's $1 billion contribution to Haiti.

Katz disagreed with Fantino's remarks, acknowledging that many people are frustrated with the way the relief efforts have been handled, none more so than the Haitian people themselves. But the journalist said he feels putting the blame on the Haitian government and cutting off aid would severely impede the country's ability to care for itself.

"You have to help the government financially and in all kinds of ways in order to give it the capacity to manage its own affairs. So you can't wait for it to be ready before that help starts coming in ... Essentially, things have to start at some point."


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