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Mark Menzies MP: Britain is helping Haiti during one of the most challenging humanitarian emergencies of our time, but we need to do more

Menzies Mark MP

Mark Menzies is the Member of Parliament for Fylde.

On the 12th January, 2010, a huge earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale ravaged the already fragile state of Haiti. It resulted in more than 220,000 deaths (according to Haitian Government figures), 96 of who were UN peacekeepers.  Following this event, countries all over the world pledged their support; indeed, the UN Security Council, by resolution 1908 of 19th January 2010, endorsed the Secretary-General's recommendation to increase the overall force levels of their Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH), so as to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country.

Two years to the day after this tragic event, a look at what has been achieved in this devastated region, and more importantly what still needs to be addressed, is appropriate.

Britain’s Disaster Emergencies Committee insists the £107 million donated here has allowed their member agencies to provide assistance to 1.8m survivors. Over the last two years this has paid for almost half the quake rubble to be removed and has allowed 270 miles of new roads to be paved.  These represent fantastic achievements and highlight the contribution from our great nation.  However, Haiti remains in the midst of a humanitarian disaster.

According to a report by Oxfam, released on Tuesday, the reconstruction of Haiti continues “at a snail’s pace”.  In a country where 520,000 people still remain homeless, more needs to be done.  As Cecilia Millan, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti, said, “With a new government in place and billions of aid dollars pledged, Haitians are left asking why there has not been more progress in rebuilding the country... Haiti must move forward not backward.”  According to the UN, by September last year, donors had only disbursed 43 per cent of the $4.6bn pledged for reconstruction in 2010 and 2011.  Haitians should not be forgotten – they are an incredibly creative people, who need not the sympathy, but the support of the international arena.

The problem is that the UN mandate has become out of touch.  They need a new mandate in Haiti, that focuses less on military personnel, and instead on economic and democratic development.  Henry Bellingham MP recently wrote that ‘peacekeepers should not be tasked to undertake reconstruction or development roles that others are better able to perform’.  He is absolutely correct.  As such, there needs to be a fundamental shift in Haiti, away from peacekeeping, and towards reconstruction.  This would not aim to create a ‘negative peace’ (in Galtung’s terms), but a lasting peace, where people are free from want. 

Haiti represents one of the most challenging humanitarian emergencies of our time and we must continue to do more.  With cholera outbreaks, widespread homelessness, and a lack of access to doctors or clean water, two years on, Haiti needs to represent a priority in the international system.

Catalysts for change have now come in the form of Mariano Fernández of Chile as the new head of MINUSTAH, as well as in the new President, Michel Martelly, who announced that this day will be a Haitian national holiday.  However, there is a great challenge ahead.  As President Martelly recently said, “We need to help (Haitians) build back better their communities, give them more support, bring them water, infrastructure, electricity, drainage and police... And don’t forget to give them the opportunity for them to gain revenue.”


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