Kids, Families Top Agenda Two Years After Earthquake

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  • Close to half million school kids receive free tuition and daily meals

  • Thousands of familes benefit from rent subsidies and financial support to rebuild or repair their homes

  • Almost half of the debris from earthquake has been taken off the streets

PORT-AU-PRINCE, January 11, 2012 - Joseph Adrien has a simple plan to jump ahead in life: he wants his two children, aged seven and ten, to do better than him, a day laborer who has been making ends meet since the earthquake robbed him of the steady jobs the Haitian economy was finally providing before tragedy struck on January 12, 2010.

His sons are doing well in school, are well fed and have been spared the tribulations of the Adrien household –part of Haiti's 70 percent unemployed--, so he thinks they have a shot at becoming educated and breaking the cycle of poverty.

The two children receive free tuition, school materials and free meals as part of World Bank-supported education programs. These include 210,000 tuition waivers and school meals for 75,000 children since the earthquake hit, destroying hundreds of schools in the Port-au-Prince area. The Bank projects have also rebuilt affected schools, such as Milome Brillière elementary, where the Adrien brothers attend classes.

"Haiti is poor with lots of unemployed, but without this program it would be a lot poorer because kids would not be able to get an education, the only effective tool against poverty," Adrien said.

Two years after the earthquake, Haiti is seeing a steady trickle of progress in areas that matter most to its recovery: human development and safety nets in the shape of healthy and educated kids, and relief for families that have lost their homes and income.

Programs addressing education, housing, disaster prevention, and job creation in the private sector, top Haiti's reconstruction agenda.

Already almost one million displaced Haitians have left temporary camps in the capital to return to their homes, enticed in part by the prospect of safer housing conditions.

Housing Relief

A multiple agency program assessed 400,000 buildings and homes for safety in the aftermath of the quake and houses in bad shape are being rebuilt or repaired with better building practices thanks to grant funding from the World Bank Group. The Neighborhood Rehabilitation and Housing Reconstruction Program will benefit 300,000 people and help families move out of camps through an array of housing services, including reconstruction grants, neighborhood upgrading and rental subsidies.

Fabienne Desmoulins, 21, and her eight family members will be moving into a new home soon thanks to such subsidy. "It will be better in a house because rain fell in the camps and it was muddy and not nice," she said.

There are still around half a million people living in temporary tents while the government continues to look for permanent housing for the remaining displaced.

Two years may seem like a long time to live in an emergency situation, as many Haitians have after the devastating earthquake. But experts point out that, in many respects, the country has moved towards recovery faster than many other nations in similar situations. Almost half of about 10 million cubic meters of rubble from the earthquake have been taken off the capital's streets in the past two years. By contrast, it took more than five years to clean up about one tenth of this amount of rubble after the 2006 earthquake in Indonesia.

And nothing goes to waste in the cleanup effort: the rubble is recycled and available to build new infrastructure while providing raw materials for building back better.

Continuing Support

Continuing technical and financial support in key areas such as education and housing, is of the outmost importance for the country's reconstruction efforts. With this in mind the International Development Association (IDA) allocated US$530 million to Haiti, of which US$255 million in grants are being made available in 2012, under an Interim World Bank Group Strategy for Haiti.

"It is critical for Haiti's long term recovery that these advances are kept and the country moves further away from the earthquake's aftermath into a sustainable future," said World Bank Special Envoy to Haiti, Alexandre Abrantes.

He noted that the 12-month strategy for Haiti will help protect Haitians from natural disasters and improve conditions for job-boosting, private investment in the country.

He cites E-power as an example of such private initiatives. A Korean-Haitian joint venture, E-power is fueling Haiti's reconstruction by increasing the country's energy capacity –it has boosted Haiti's electricity output capacity by 35 percent- while providing employment and on the job training to hundreds of Haitian technicians.

The IFC-financed state-of-the-art power plant provides 15 percent of the demand of the Port-au- Prince area, and provides reliable supply to businesses and communities previously plagued by blackouts.

"If we produce with the right technology and do it the right way and competitively we can bring down the cost of electricity for the state utility and help them save, help the country save money," E-Power Chief Executive Officer Carl-Auguste Boisson.

IFC-funded investments have created and safeguarded over 10,000 jobs in Haiti.

As Haiti recovers from a catastrophe it is common sense to be better prepared for another potentially catastrophic event that may put Haitians in harm's way and threaten the progress achieved so far.

One powerful tool, literally developed out of the country's ruins, is a national multi-hazard mapping database. This database is being used by development organizations in deciding where and how to build or rebuild schools, hospitals and homes. Similarly, the World Bank is helping civil protection committees throughout Haiti to prepare communities for catastrophes, determine who is at risk and where they should shelter in the event of future disasters. This system was put to the test last hurricane season when Tomas lashed parts of Haiti without leaving the trail of death and destruction brought by previous storms.

And Haitians have noticed the difference. "Our disaster training helps reduce the impact on the population in risk zones and reduces the potential impact on the entire community," said Magali Robert Jean-Francoise a civil protection volunteer.