Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks on the situation in Haiti

09 Mar 2011

The Situation in Haiti
Remarks by Rebeca Grynspan, United Nations Development Programme’s Associate Administrator and
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

National Assembly Hearing
Paris, 9 March 2011

UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan with Axel Poniatowski, head of the foreign affairs commission of France's National Assembly, addressing the Assembly on the situation in Haiti. (Photo: National Assembly of France)


Mr. Chairman of the Commission and honorable members of parliament. It is an honor for me to address you today on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme and as the alternate representative of the United Nations in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

Allow me to begin by thanking President Poniatowski for his kind invitation to address this committee on the situation in Haiti.

The last thirteen months have been the most traumatic period in Haiti’s already troubled recent past. Let me very quickly go through the most relevant facts:

On 12 January 2010, a 47seconds earthquake killed, according to latest figures from the Government of Haiti, 330,000 people and injured another 300,000. Almost 3.5 million people were directly affected, 1/3 of the whole country’s population.

The Government lost around 33% of its civil servants and 20% of its police force. Out of 17 prisons, 8 were either totally destroyed or partially damaged and 60 % of the total prison population escaped.

Sixty per cent of government and administrative buildings were destroyed, weakening even further the little capacity the State already had.

Almost 200,000 houses collapsed or were badly damaged together with almost 80 per cent of schools in Port-au-Prince and 60 per cent of the rest affected areas, it was estimated that the earthquake produced a total of 10 million cubic meters of debris.

In 47 seconds the country lost an estimated of 120 per cent of Haiti’s 2009 Gross Domestic Product bringing to a halt the economic and social advances that were beginning to emerge in the preceding years and the expectation of a 4% rate growth for 2010. The severe impacts of these events can be gauged by the fact that in an UNDP intermediary report on the MDGs of March 2009, it was anticipated that Haiti would be in a position to achieve three of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - those on the universalization of primary education, child mortality and HIV/AIDS. Today, it is generally accepted that Haiti is unlikely to reach any of the MDGs.

The January earthquake was followed by an outbreak of cholera in October 2010, which quickly spread to other parts of the country. This was the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in living memory. To date, this epidemic has affected more than 230.000 persons, killing 4,539 people. With a lot of effort the new weekly cases recorded have diminished from 12.000 per week to less than 4,000 and the daily case fatality rate in Haiti is now below one per cent compared to almost ten percent at the outset, and is consistent with international standards for properly-managed cholera cases. The effective way in which the epidemic was addressed could not have been done without the strong support of the humanitarian and health community.


On 28 November 2010, the country went to the polls for the first round of the Presidential and Legislative Elections. The announcement of the preliminary results for the Presidential Election on 6 December 2010, led to widespread civil unrest as allegations of fraud were made against the ruling party’s candidate.

So let me now highlight some of the achievements made by the combined efforts of the national and international community:

First, a fragile political stability was recovered after the announcement of the provisional electoral commission accepting the recommendations of the Organization of American States and establishing that Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly were the two candidates contesting the second round of the Presidential elections. The result was generally welcomed in Haiti (despite some voices asking for the annulment of the elections) and was an important milestone in the resolution of the political crisis. According to the electoral calendar the second-round would take place on 20th March; the preliminary results would be published on 31 March; and the final results would be expected on 16 April. UNDP has managed all international funding received for the 2010-2011 electoral cycle and is providing key technical support and advice for Haiti’s legislative and presidential elections.
The importance of successfully completing the on-going electoral process cannot be overstated.

Second, from a humanitarian and early recovery point of view, the following achievements can be highlighted, even though major difficulties and also mistakes have been encountered along the way. Let me share with you a few facts and figures:

  • At the height of the crisis, emergency shelter was being provided to 1.5 million people. More than 11,000 latrines were built. Today, according to the last estimates, Emergency Shelter continues to be provided to 810,000 persons, almost a half less compared to January last year, and the population of the camps continues to decrease;
  • In the six weeks immediately after the earthquake, the World Food Programme delivered food to some 4 million Haitians. Today it continues to provide food assistance to around 2 million people. In addition, 1.1 million children receive daily meals through the National Schools Feeding Programme;
  • At the height of the emergency, over 1.7 million people were regularly receiving clean drinking water. Today, drinking water is being delivered to 1.2 million people on a daily basis; and in the camps no major disease outbreaks were recorded.
  • To date over 2 million cubic meters of rubble have been removed. The process of removal can now be accelerated, as an increasing number of sites become more accessible, provided that funding is available. The experience of UNDP in Léogâne, which was the epicentre of the earthquakehas shown the way for similar projects in PaP. In Leogane a community based approach allowed the removal of 70% of the debris with the participation of the local authorities, the private sector, Non-governmental organizations and the affected population that was able to be employed and rebuild their communities at the same time.
  • Since January 2010, through cash for work and livelihoods programmes started in the aftermath of the earthquake by UNDP, the UN and other partners, including bilateral donors, have helped create short-term employment for 500,000 people through activities such as light debris removal, garbage collection, and canal cleaning; and
  • Over 95 per cent of the children who were in school before the earthquake are now back in school.
  • This has been possible given the huge international response to Haiti’s tragedy: In the March 2010 Ministerial Conference co-hosted by the US and the UN in cooperation with the Government of Haiti, and with the support of Brazil, Canada the EU, France and Spain, donors pledged 5.57 billion USD of which 2 billion USD were pledged for 2010. At the end of December 2010, donors had disbursed 64 percent of total funds pledged, but if debt relief is excluded the figure drops to 30%. Out of those, 23 percent was channelled through the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. France has contributed to the HRF too allowing for the Reconstruction Fund to respond more quickly and efficiently to the Government priorities, including budget support.
The share and value added of the decentralized cooperation within this effort, by the way, has really been fundamental on ensuring quick mobilization and deployment of aid.
  • But timely disbursement of the remaining commitments of 2010 and 2011 will be critical for the new phase of the reconstruction efforts.
  • Part of the ability of Haiti to maintain up to now and for the future, the international attention and engagement arises from the establishment of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) created to coordinate and oversee recovery and reconstruction efforts. It is co-chaired by Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former US President William J. Clinton. And has a sui generis Board composed 50% by Haitians representatives of the Government and civil society and 50% by internationals representatives of the main contributing countries, and international organizations. Mr. Pierre Duquesne represents the Government of France in the IHRC and has made very important and significant contributions to its legal framework, strategic positioning and operations. Up to December 2010 the IHRC has approved projects in the framework of the National Plan and priorities, totaling 3 billion US dollars. The IHRC provides a real space for coordination, strategic dialogue, and complementarity between bilateral and multilateral aid, public and private actors, international and national organizations and the Government of Haiti.

All these examples show that important progress has been achieved.

However, critical challenges remain:

  • First of all, the less successful intervention relates to gender-based violence that remains a grave and widespread problem, equally inside and outside the camps.
  • The transition from the humanitarian phase to the development one has been slow and continues to be very challenging. Needless to say, this devastating earthquake, and subsequent crises have exasperated and amplified most of the structural challenges that Haiti was facing prior to 12 January 2010: a weak institutional and administrative capacity, over-centralization, economic vulnerability, extreme socio-economic disparities and chronic poverty, environmental degradation, a fragile and polarized political system, insecurity and a weak rule of law apparatus. So we are dealing not only with a “rebuilding effort” but a transformation that involves not only the people affected by the earthquake, but with the needs of the population at large, that lacks, as do the displaced people in the camps, access to the most basic services, that are mainly been provided by the humanitarian community.

Given that the restoration and building up of the capacities of the state to provide the services is slow, a very careful planning, and a sufficient amount of resources are needed for switching from a humanitarian centered support to a development centered effort. The humanitarian community is worried that notwithstanding the advances on the humanitarian front, to date, the 2011 Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for Haiti is only nine per cent funded. These include support for the resettlement and voluntary relocation of some 810,000 internally displaced persons, continued efforts on cholera prevention and treatment, and preparations for the next hurricane season.

  • On the recovery side, project implementation needs to scale up, and speed up. The population has been patient but the needs and suffering are huge. Avoiding delays due to lack of capacity, slowness of disbursement or funding gaps is central for success. Basic service delivery at the community level and a much stronger and quality response in the housing and debris sectors to build back better is the fastest way to reactivate the economy, generate employment and small businesses, and allow the return of the people to their neighborhoods.
  • The concentration of the efforts in PaP has been excessive despite the fact that decentralization and territorial management is included in the Haitian National Action Plan for Recovery and Development. This has been one of the main areas of interest of French cooperation in Haiti and should be a key axis of future activities. The decentralized cooperation that many of you have led in benefit of Haitian local communities is thus extremely valuable.
As a contribution to this effort UNDP and the Government of Haiti are leading the preparation of Roadmaps for Seismic Risk Reduction and Seismic Micro zoning, as a necessary condition for territorial management and urban planning.
  • And to conclude let me re emphasize three very big points:

As the SRSG in Haiti Edmund Mullet points out “The absence of rule of law, …has undermined the confidence of the people in their Government, allowed corruption to flourish and is also a major contributing factor to the political instability in Haiti. The Rule of Law, of course, is police, prisons, justice. But rule of law is also land registry, a birth registry, construction and building codes, commercial laws: it is the capacity of the State to collect taxes to guarantee a level of legal security to promote entrepreneurship investments, job creation, to facilitate economic development.”

…We have to reflect on why, after so many years and resources spend on project on this area, results are so weak and limited. Part of the answer lies in the fact that “the interventions in support of the rule of law have remained largely donor driven. ..for the rule of law to take root, it must be pushed by domestic constituencies”. The UN and UNDP have an important role to play in this direction!

My second point is in fact a concern, that is, the volatility we are observing in the food and fuel prices, an important element of the G20 agenda under the French Presidency.

And my third and last point is that you cannot rebuild a country project by project. The only ones that can bring the effort to the scale needed for Haiti’s reconstruction and transformation are the Haitians themselves. To support that effort they need not only the support of the project but the policy frameworks to make it themselves. They need the standards, the mechanisms, the credit, the technical assistance, the seeds …they need a capable Government and the right policies and rules of the game for them again, as they have shown so many times, to make a better living for them and their families. A peaceful and successful democratic transfer of power in April and an accountable and visionary leadership, together with a responsible and engaged international community can be a huge opportunity for Haiti.

French National Assembly Hearing