Thursday, January 12, 2012

Haiti Struggles Two Years Following Devastating Quake

Haiti, which was one of the poorest and most incompetently governed countries in the world even before the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, continues to struggle to rebuild its capital two years after the quake struck.

While streets have been cleared of debris, damaged and destroyed buildings throughout Port au Prince remain omnipresent. The debris of the collapsed national government palace in the city remains untouched and is an indelible image of the ongoing problems facing the Haitian government. They've managed to rebuild the national airport terminal so that operations could resume, but much of the city's residents live in horrendous conditions that worsen each time it rains.

And about half of the $4.5 billion pledged in donations have been disbursed:
The statistics say only about half of the rubble has been removed. There was 10 million cubic meters of it, or by one estimate, 10 times the amount of debris left by the September 11th attacks.

The international community pledged more than $4.5 billion dollars to help Haiti's recovery, but so far, just over half, 52 percent, has been disbursed.

“You’re moving from emergency response to recovery and that has complexities. Things take time...More could be done, we can always do better. At the same time, people are trying hard,” said Jehane Sadky, officer in charge at the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

Sadky’s office is in charge of tracking where all the money has gone. She said that most of the money that has been disbursed has gone to NGOs or grants, not directly to the Haitian government.

“We want to emphasize that perhaps more money should go through Haitian institutions,” Sadky said. “Haiti deserves to get up on its feet alone and won’t be able to do that unless it has the money to do so.”

In part, donors have been reluctant to give the money they’ve committed directly to the Haitian government because of this year’s election. The painfully prolonged and disputed election finally produced a president and then five months later a prime minister and a government.

Once assembled, the newly elected government did not renew the mandate for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the group headed by former President Bill Clinton that was helping coordinate relief efforts.

On top of the political changes, there's been an ongoing cholera epidemic that killed about 7,000 people and sickened perhaps half a million Haitians in the wake of the earthquake.
Cholera is an omnipresent danger, and hundreds of thousands have been sickened since a deadly outbreak began in 2010 and more than 7,000 have died. One interesting development on that front is that Twitter may prove to help epidemiologists and health experts track outbreaks. The mention of "cholera" in postings rose and declined in relation to reporting about the disease, and that tracked the official data that would be released later. In other words, this is a way to get ahead of potential outbreaks and help improve public health.

The sociopolitical challenges remain difficult to overcome and the Haitian political institutions aren't getting the job done even where they have the opportunity to do so. For their part, the charitable groups are making the best of a bad situation, but millions of Haitians continue to struggle to deal with a shattered country that can't handle a disaster of this magnitude.

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