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Leslie Buckley: We must do more to build on hope in stricken Haiti

There is hope in Haiti -- these are proud people looking for a hand-up, not a hand-out

DURING 2010, Ireland saw the arrival of the IMF and the nationalisation of some of our banks. During the same period, the people of Haiti contended with a devastating earthquake, a hurricane, political violence and cholera.

Today is exactly one year since an earthquake struck Port au Prince. In 42 seconds, 75pc of buildings were reduced to rubble, 230,000 died and 1.5 million were left homeless, forced to live in campsites, without access to water or sanitation. Conditions were sub-squalor.

The aid community descended immediately, including Haven, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) launched by my wife, Carmel, and me. Haven's sole purpose is to alleviate poverty in Haiti, which was the poorest country in the western hemisphere even before the earthquake.

Haven concentrated on water, sanitation and shelter (WASH). Initially, our focus was on distributing tarpaulins and building pit-latrines -- a basic but hygienic form of sanitation.

We have completed and are maintaining 1,360 of these latrines in 57 campsites, impacting 80,000 people. Haven is working in 13 schools, providing water, building and maintaining latrines and carrying out hygiene-promotion workshops for pupils and teachers.

One week before Christmas, I visited the capital. Seeing the city reeling from the effects of cholera was extremely disheartening. The first case confirmed in October forced Haven to cancel two 'Build It Weeks', leaving 560 volunteers grounded in Ireland.

As of January 1, 2011, the Haitian ministry of health reported 171,304 cases of cholera and 3,651 deaths.

The confirmation of this infection has impacted hugely on Haven, our volunteers and particularly on the people of this densely populated country. Not only has it claimed thousands of lives, it has disrupted the ongoing aid project.

Issues over land-ownership continue to hamper the process of acquiring land on which we can build. However, I am delighted to report that Haven is building 700 'transitional shelters' in Port au Prince. These shelters are semi-permanent, upgradable and cost-efficient.

While I was in the city, I attended a handover ceremony in Croix de Bouquet. That afternoon, we gave 20 families the keys to their new homes. Now families are decorating their new home with curtains and furniture that was salvaged from the rubble.

I also visited our Gabion House project, otherwise known as 'Rubble House'. Nearly every element is made from the debris left behind by the quake, even the plaster.

Haven is the first organisation to pilot this method and it is brilliant to see the wreckage being exploited as a sustainable resource for the rebuilding of the country.

There is hope in Haiti. The resilience of the people is truly inspiring. I am always amazed at the businesses that have sprung up inside the tent cities.

These are proud people, looking for a hand-up, not a hand-out. However a hand-out is needed.

There are now multiple responses to multiple emergencies in progress in Haiti. The magnitude of these projects is daunting.

In March, donors pledged $6.1bn (€4.7bn) in aid for 2010 and 2011. According to the Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, $2.01bn of this was pledged for 2010.

Just $1.28bn of these funds has been disbursed. A substantial proportion of it has been given to the government in the form of grants, loans and budget support. The remainder of this money must be turned into hard currency.

No nation is doing enough, not even the Haitians themselves. $1.28bn has been donated to date, yet visible progress is agonisingly slow and the authorities do little to help.

Mounds of rubble still line or blockade the streets of Port au Prince. These ruins act as a barrier to both physical and psychological progress. Tedious bureaucratic procedures dictate who can build and where.

When cholera was first confirmed, roads were left open, markets were still held, people moved freely and the infection spread. Haitian authorities must prioritise the needs of their people. The government is often branded as being corrupt. If the progress on the streets reflected the level of money that has been donated, this perception could change.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, I committed to President Rene Preval that Haven would build 10,000 homes in Haiti. 2,003 of these shelters are either complete or under way. Haven will reach that goal. But Haiti must become independent. The level of support provided by international agencies is unsustainable.

The next government must harness the support of the international community. They must direct the gaze of that community on one goal -- to fulfil the basic human rights of their people. They must have the vision and become the drivers for change.

Each home in the capital built by Haven is built by our Haitian workforce. Most of these people work on a cash-for-work basis and receive training on the job. With this up-skilling of labour and flow of money into the economy through the provision of safe housing, I am confident that Haven -- with the continued generosity of our donors and volunteers -- will continue to play a part in driving the recovery of Haiti, restoring it to its place as the 'Diamond of the Caribbean'.

Leslie Buckley is the founder of Haven

Irish Independent