SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Haitian and Dominican bishops said they will create a commission that will work to help reconstruct Haiti more than two years after a major earthquake destroyed the Caribbean nation.
Several Catholic groups have been working on the ground toward reconstructing the country. The commission will differ in that it will focus on recruiting volunteers and encouraging donations from the private sector.
“As the bishops’ conference of Haiti is particularly interested in seeing that the solidarity, assistance and cooperation for the reconstruction of areas affected by the earthquake of 2010 does not stop, the Dominican episcopal conference has decided to invite qualified volunteers — and collect support from individuals, businesses, institutions — to support the reconstruction of Haiti,” the conferences said in a joint statement March 14.
The commission will focus on “getting quality (building) materials at affordable prices,” including cement and steel rebar, used to reinforce concrete, the statement said.
Donations will be channeled to Catholic groups working in the country, the bishops said.
A lack of quality materials and poorly enforced building codes contributed to the breadth of destruction when the magnitude-7 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. Some 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or badly damaged.
The Haitian government estimated 316,000 were killed, although that number remains in dispute. Among those who died was Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince.
Foreign governments and individuals around the world pledged billions in aid to help rebuild. But more than two years later, nearly 500,000 earthquake survivors live in tents and tarp-covered shacks in camps in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Bishop Chibly Langlois of Fort Liberte, president of the Haitian bishops’ conference, said the political infighting has helped contribute to the glacial pace of rebuilding.
Haitian President Michel Martelly took office last year and nearly immediately ran into problems with a legislature controlled by an opposition political party. Prime Minister Garry Conille — Martelly’s third choice as prime minister; his other nominees were not approved — resigned in late February after only four months on the job. The prime minister is head of government in Haiti and key in overseeing government reconstruction efforts.
“Political stability has a lot to do with development and the projects that were initiated after the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010,” Bishop Langlois said.
The pledge to create the commission came at the conclusion of a three-day meeting in which bishops and Catholic leaders discussed matters — including migration and discrimination — affecting the island the two countries share.
The Haitian-Dominican relationship has a complex, often tense and violent history, with roots dating back centuries.
For decades, Haitians have migrated to the more prosperous Dominican Republic to work in sugar cane fields and on construction sites.
Human rights groups have accused the Dominican government of being anti-Haitian because of the substandard conditions in which Haitians often work and live once they migrate.