May 2010: Haiti- A shelter emergency

Haiti: a shelter emergency

Op-ed published in El País, 31 March 2010, co-signed by Ross Mountain, Director General of DARA; Fernando Perpiñá, Secretary General of Club de Madrid; Emilio Casinello, Director General of Centro Internacional de Toledo para la Paz.

The Haiti Donors Conference, which will be held in New York on March 31st, is of vital importance for the future of the Caribbean nation. The January 12th earthquake that struck the capital city provoked the collapse of thousands of buildings (many of which were already unstable), buried hundreds of thousands of people, left more than a million homeless; and within a matter of 30 seconds, destroyed 60% of the GDP of what was already the poorest American nation. Haiti will be unable to come to grips with such colossal challenges without the coordinated support of the international community. Spain needs to play an important role in this process. The earthquake struck shortly after Spain assumed EU presidency, signifying that from its very first moments in power, Spain had to take leadership of European aid coordination. Vice President Fernández de la Vega travelled to the devastated capital a few days following the quake, and was present at the first Donors Conference held in Montreal shortly thereafter. The Spanish Agency for International Development Coordination (AECID), in conjunction with the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), facilitated on-site donor coordination. During the first few days of uncertainty, an initiative was taken to create a “European shop” at the base of MINUSTAH, the UN mission in Port-au-Prince, and was regarded very favorably by all other donors.

Spain has traditionally held an important role in Haiti. It is the third largest bilateral donor following the US and Canada, and the fourth largest in emergency response following the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Haiti is a priority country for the AECID, even though Spain does not have defined geostrategic interests there, nor a direct historical responsibility. Spain is a highly respected and a valued participant due to such impartiality, and is one of the few European states that maintains a permanent diplomatic presence in Haiti, along with France and Germany.

International response to the catastrophe has been quick and abundant, but not always effective. In total, more than $2.3 billion has already been mobilized in emergency humanitarian aid. The enormous scale of the disaster, the collapse of logistics at the outset, the scarce participation and involvement of Haitians; in conjunction with the crisis in the capacity of local and international institutions, might help explain, although certainly not justify, some of the malfunctions that have been detected in the response. For example, the urgent need of shelter for hundreds of people to counter the arrival of Haiti’s rainy season has yet to be resolved. In addition, sanitation needs are far from being met and less than 20% of the requirements in the early recovery and agriculture sectors have been covered. It is of vital importance to assure the coordination of reconstruction efforts and the integration of preventative and risk reduction strategies that will limit the consequences of possible natural disasters in the future. The goal is not only to recover what has been destroyed, but also to reestablish the country upon new foundations, as Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has stated.

Spain’s role goes further than its current tasks: it will continue to carry out the EU presidency de facto, given that no other member states that will preside over the EU in the next few years have diplomatic representation in Haiti. It should be noted, however, that Spain is not taking advantage of other available opportunities.

In such dramatic situations, it is possible that the new European architecture will need to reformulate the focus of member states in relation to new institutions within the Union. It would not be logical, however, if one of the most important donors didn’t have an adequate level of representation, especially while assuming EU presidency. Thus, the presence of Spain must be supported by the right to speak in debate and vote in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) that will be co-chaired by the Prime Minister of Haiti and former President Clinton.

In addition, Spain’s positive image can be influential in focusing on needs, as opposed to commercial or political interests. It may also serve to integrate regional initiatives due to its influence on Latin America, and support joint policies of the two entities of the Hispaniola , taking advantage of Dominican solidarity after the earthquake. Similarly, Spain must contribute to the orientation of mechanisms channeling aid to reconstruction in order to ensure that adequate strategies are put into place. It is an opportunity for aid to be measured not only in quantity, but also in quality.