As the first Anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake which rocked Haiti on 12 January 2010 looms, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is continuing its steady and multi-pronged support to this Member State.
At a recently concluded meeting co-ordinated by the Office of the Special Representative of CARICOM Heads of Government on Haiti, the Most Honourable Percival Patterson, and bringing together officials of the Government of Haiti, the CARICOM Secretariat, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and a cross section of the Diaspora and regional private sector, progress was made in preparing projects in the priority areas determined by the Government of Haiti for submission to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) which is working closely with the World Bank as the custodian of a US $5.8 billion Haiti Reconstruction Fund. The priority areas identified include housing and settlement development; physical and environmental planning; and infrastructure development and coordination. This meeting, called following discussions between Mr Patterson and the President of Haiti, His Excellency René Préval last December represents a critical step towards the development and reconstruction of Haiti.
The IHRC is co-chaired by former United States President Bill Clinton and Haiti’s Prime Minister Honourable Jean-Max Bellerive. CARICOM has secured a seat with voting rights on the Commission – a key mechanism established by the Government of Haiti and the international donor community to guide Haiti’s reconstruction process in accordance with its Action Plan for National Recovery and Development.
The Caribbean Community has been active in responding to President Préval’s request for CARICOM to spearhead advocacy and engagement with the international community on Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction. CARICOM Heads of Government and the Secretary-General have been vocal in their appeals for the international donor community to fulfil their pledges made at various fora to finance the reconstruction and rebuilding process. The Community continues to re-iterate this position and calls on the international community to honour their commitments to financing the reconstruction and rebuilding of that Member State.
CARICOM’s advocacy in support of its Member State, continues its commitment of assistance which began within the critical first 48 hours of the disaster. On Wednesday, 13 January, less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, under the system established by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency
(CDEMA), the Region’s response mechanism to natural disasters, Jamaica, as the sub-regional focal point deployed medical personnel and security forces to Haiti as a first response. The sub-regional focal point covers the area that includes in addition to Haiti, The Bahamas, Belize and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In the critical days that followed, reinforcements poured in from CARICOM Member States and Associate Members as well as from civil society in the Region and the Diaspora in the form of food, medicine, clothing, artisans, military assistance, search and rescue teams, medical personnel and aircraft.
CARICOM’s political support to Haiti in the aftermath of the greatest humanitarian crisis in the history of the Region was illustrated by the visit of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Honourable Bruce Golding on 14 January. Furthermore, then CARICOM Chairman, Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica and the Prime Ministers of The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, along with the then Secretary-General joined the President of Haiti at the first international meeting on the recovery and reconstruction of Haiti, in Santo Domingo on 18 January.
As efforts galvanized towards the development and reconstruction of Haiti, the importance of capacity building has been emphasised. The University of the West Indies (UWI) has provided critical support to restore that CARICOM Member State’s human resource capacity. It facilitated the placing of Haitian University students who were displaced by the destruction of their facilities into the Mona, Jamaica, Cave Hill, Barbados and St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago campuses to complete their courses of study.
The Secretariat has also continued its attachment programme with officials from Haiti’s Foreign Ministry being assigned to the Georgetown headquarters of the Secretariat on a rotational basis, in an effort to deepen understanding by Haitian officials of the procedures, processes and operations of the Community.
With agriculture being a key sector in Haiti which was buffeted by the disaster, UWI also committed its resources and expertise to work with Haiti to explore ways of reforestation of the hillsides and the other ways of preventing landslides. In addition, the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute (CARDI) is engaged in a seed-planting project with Haitian farmers in order to boost food production.
Even as these rebuilding efforts were in train, Haiti was struck by another disaster – an outbreak of cholera which has so far taken more than 3,000 lives and afflicted more than 100,000 persons. The Community has again responded and following the return of a scoping mission from Haiti, is refining the logistical arrangements to provide much needed medical assistance in consultation with the Ministry of Health of Haiti.
In keeping with the thrust to rebuild the country, work has also continued with respect to preparing Haiti to participate effectively in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). It is being assisted in its preparations by the Secretariat, led by the CARICOM Representation Office in Haiti (CROH) which was re-opened in 2007 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
As a first step towards the CSME, Haiti was due to enter the trade in goods regime of the Single Market in January 2010 but could not do so because of the earthquake. To assist in stimulating economic activity, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in December, approved a request for some Haitian products to be exported within the Single Market on a non-reciprocal preferential basis for three years. Consultations are on-going towards approval of additional items from an original list which Haiti submitted. The concession became effective from 1 January 2011. CARICOM Secretariat officials are continuing their training exercises with Haitian customs officials to facilitate their understanding of the CSME’s trading regime.
In the area of governance, the Secretariat’s Assistant Secretary-General for Foreign and Community Relations, His Excellency Ambassador Colin Granderson, is integrally involved in the Haitian Presidential elections process as Head of the Joint Electoral Observer Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and CARICOM. Ambassador Granderson has been based in Haiti since October in carrying out this mission.
Especially noteworthy in the response to the crisis in Haiti has been the support of CARICOM’s International Development Partners. The Governments of Australia and Spain as well as UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and USAID have all rendered significant and much appreciated assistance to the Community’s efforts to help in the recovery, redevelopment and reconstruction phases in the aftermath of the earthquake disaster and in response to the cholera epidemic.