Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti Continues Struggling to Rebuild a Year After Devastating Earthquake

It's been a year since a massive earthquake devastated Haiti's capital of Port au Prince and killed approximately 300,000 people on January 12, 2010. Much of the city still lays in ruins and the Haitian people still live in squalor and temporary shelter.
For all the talk about rebuilding better than the structures that crumbled all around Haiti, the country is still mired in the first steps of rebuilding. Rubble still has not been cleared from 95% of the areas damaged.
The international community "has not done enough to support good governance and effective leadership in Haiti," the aid group Oxfam said in a recent report. "Aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistance, while donors are not coordinating their actions or adequately consulting the Haitian people."

Less than 5 percent of debris has been cleared, leaving enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world. In the broken building where the man was found, workers hired to clear rubble by hand found two other people's remains.

Meanwhile, about a million people remain homeless and neighborhood-sized homeless camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital. A cholera epidemic erupted outside the earthquake zone that has killed more than 3,600 people, and an electoral crisis threatens to break an increasingly fragile political stability.

The promise of a better Haiti remains just that.

"The problem is that at a certain point the international community gave the impression they could solve the problem quickly. ... I think there was an excess of optimism," said Ericq Pierre, Haiti's representative to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.

Progress has been slow across the board, starting with the omnipresent rubble.

The U.S.-based RAND organization said donors and the Haitian government are responsible for more not being cleared. Haitian workers are not given personal equipment while heavy lifters have been blocked by customs officials at the border, the report said. The government has also not designated sufficient dumping space.

"Unless rubble is cleared expeditiously, hundreds of thousands of Haitians will still be in tent camps during the 2011 hurricane season" - which runs from June through November, the report said.

It does not help that the fees collected by customs officials - such as those blocking the large rubble-removing equipment - are one of the few bright spots in a Haitian economy that was already the worst in the hemisphere before contracting by 7 percent over 2010, according to the World Bank.

The political situation isn't much better, and that's hampering the reconstruction efforts as well.

Haitians deserve better than this from their government and from themselves. They also deserve better from the international community that pledged to help but which has moved on to the next international crisis and put Haiti in its rear view mirror.

The country will face yet another hurricane season with millions exposed to potential calamity without proper shelter.

The NY Times has a series of before/during/after photos showing how Haiti looks compared to what happened before and after the quake hit. It's staggering to see just how little reconstruction has taken place and how much of the city of Port au Prince is filled with temporary structures that have taken on the air of permanence.

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