Haiti: One Year Later

Written on January 12, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, International Development, News

The Year of Surviving in Squalor
Even allowing for some unique difficulties, the efforts of the government and outsiders to rebuild have been disappointing.

January 1st was the 207th anniversary of the day that Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare independence. To mark their achievement of an equivocal freedom, Haitians traditionally eat pumpkin soup. This year some did not bother. “None of us felt like celebrating,” said Micheline Michel, whose home is a shanty of bed sheets opposite the ruins of the National Palace. Instead, she spent the holiday hawking old clothes around the concrete carcasses of buildings that litter the city centre.

Around 1m Haitians have been living like Ms Michel in tents or under tarpaulins since January 12th last year, when Port-au-Prince was devastated by a huge earthquake officially estimated to have killed 230,000 people. A year that began with goudou-goudou, the onomatopoeic neologism Haitians use to refer to the quake, ended with cholera on a death march across the country, a sometimes violent electoral dispute and a palpable vacuum of leadership.

When she and her family sought refuge in their shelter last January, Ms Michel believed they would stay for a couple of weeks or maybe a month. “I never imagined that a year later, we’d still be living in such absolute misery,” she says. Few did.

But when visiting journalists parachute in to Port-au-Prince for the anniversary of the earthquake, they will see few signs of progress and many of stasis. Rubble still blocks many streets. Even if the work of removing it goes according to the official schedule, less than half will be cleared by October. Only about 30,000 temporary shelters have been built. The National Palace, the emblem of Haitian sovereignty, has yet to be demolished, let alone rebuilt. The tent camps that dot the city look ever-shabbier, and their inhabitants thinner and more bedraggled.

This landscape of neglect and degradation mocks the widespread hope in the weeks after the quake that Haiti could “build back better,” as Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to the country, put it. The government’s promising reconstruction plan, unveiled at a donor conference in March, envisioned moving many people outside the swollen capital and injecting economic life into rural areas, as well as rebuilding Port-au-Prince.

Little of this has happened. The only official relocation site is a barren wasteland on the outskirts of the capital which shelters fewer than 10,000 people, many of whom feel they were tricked into moving there. Donors pledged $5.8 billion for recovery and reconstruction until September 2011. But less than half of that has been disbursed, and a big chunk has gone on debt relief rather than fresh funds. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on January 6, 2011 (‘The Economist’ Print Edition)


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