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Haiti, Pisco-Peru, and the Pandemic

Antonio Peña Jumpa

Professor at the Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.

Lawyer, master's in social sciences and PhD. in Laws.

The recent earthquake in Haiti, which occurred on the morning of August 14, 2021, reminds us of the Pisco earthquake, in Peru, which occurred 14 years ago (August 15, 2007), and both can lead us to understand the effects of the current pandemic situation affecting the world. How prepared are we to understand these effects and take part on reconstruction?

Haiti had a previous earthquake, in 2010, with very serious effects. On that occasion the dead numbered was hundreds of thousands and the destruction of homes was massive. The recent earthquake, on the other hand, has been of a lesser magnitude, but with hundreds of deaths and thousands of homes destroyed or affected. The sad thing about the experience is that Haiti was in a situation of extreme poverty before the 2010 earthquake, and without having recovered or rebuilt, it is submerged in another earthquake, with poverty still existing.

The case of Pisco is not so distant. Although on August 15, 2007, the death toll reached hundreds and the number of homes destroyed or affected was thousands, the consequences of the earthquake spread to other nearby provinces and districts with similar effects. The regrettable thing is that, after the earthquake, the reconstruction process never ended: alternative ways of organizing reconstruction were proposed, but they turned into new bureaucratic forms of public investment, with billions of soles in unfinished or defective works related to acts of corruption. In the end, many of the authorities of the central, regional, and local governments were involved in these acts of corruption, but without investigation or punishment.

In both experiences, in Haiti and Pisco-Peru, deficiencies in the organization of reconstruction have prevented the resurgence of the victims and of society in general. The State model and the reconstruction model have been the same: hierarchical, bureaucratic, and specialized. This means a planned and controlled reconstruction from the top down, administered by technocrats and makeshift public officials, and led by experts close to the politicians on duty. In a first stage, the emergency stage, the model seems the ideal, but when the months and years go by, the model turns into an absolute failure.

Under these experiences, it is convenient to reflect on the effects that correspond to the COVID-19 pandemic that we are living. The health emergency of about two years, with periods of contagion by waves and collapsed health services, means an earthquake with several aftershocks. Consequently, the rebuilding process will be just as complex, and long-lasting. But it requires that we learn from those failures.

What to do?

We probably must start from what we know how to do and what we have at our disposal: to apply the specialized bureaucratic hierarchy. But this cannot be permanent, and it can only be applied if at the same time it gives way to direct citizen or collective participation, which considers the use of the resources or conditions that our own society provides. Starting from this general appreciation and locating ourselves in the Peruvian context, we can suggest:

  1. Transfer reconstruction responsibilities to the affected and non-affected population. Initially, the non-victims are in a better position to lead the process, but later the victims are the ones who should be able to direct their own reconstruction.

  2. Work with existing organizations. This means relying on the grassroots organizations of each neighborhood or human settlement, in the urban area, and on the historical organizations of the peasant communities, native communities, peasant patrols and other organizational forms, in the rural area

  3. Transfer responsibilities with budget. If the affected population does not receive the possibility of administering or co-administering the reconstruction works and projects that are necessary for them at the local, regional, or national level, the results of the failure will not change. In this regard, the risk of corruption will always exist; to do this, the comptroller general of the republic (in charge of controlling state funds) will adapt, and, above all, it will be the same population that can control and punish corrupt people.

It is time to be prepared to participate in the reconstruction of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of any disaster situation such as the one currently facing the population of Haiti. We are all involved, although not all of us are affected. Our unity, understanding and honest participation is crucial to support the victims and, especially, the most vulnerable. This understanding will help us to consolidate our citizenship and to be prepared for new disasters.

Lima, August 15, 2021.


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