Haiti: A year after the quake, waiting to rebuild
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The man’s body lay face down, his white dress shirt shining like wax in the sun, as he was unearthed in the ruins of a Port-au-Prince restaurant a year after the earthquake.
The bodies still being found in the rubble are a sign of how far Haiti must go to recover from a disaster that left the capital in ruins and is estimated to have killed more than 230,000 people.
In the days after the Jan. 12, 2010, disaster, volunteers and hundreds of aid groups flocked in with food, water and first aid that saved countless lives. But the effort to rebuild has been dwarfed by the extent of the need and a lack of leadership – both in Haiti and internationally.
President Rene Preval did not speak publicly for days after the quake, and many observers have criticized him for not spearheading a coherent reconstruction effort, or making the hard policy decisions needed to rebuild.
Still, advocacy groups also blame the Haitian government’s weakness on an international community that is not keeping its pledge of support.
“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.”
Street markets were soon up and running after the quake and Port-au-Prince’s traffic is worse than ever. On Tuesday, Preval, his wife and other officials lay flowers at symbolic black crosses marking a mass grave outside the capital where hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims are buried.
But from the barren hillside, the destruction is clearly visible. The slogan “build back better,” touted by former President Bill Clinton and others, remains an unfulfilled promise.
Less than 5 percent of the debris has been cleared, leaving enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world. In the broken building where the dead man was discovered last week, workers hired to clear rubble by hand found two other people’s remains.
About a million people remain homeless and neighborhood-sized camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital. A cholera epidemic that erupted outside the quake zone has killed more than 3,600 people, and an electoral crisis between Preval’s ruling party and its rivals threatens to break an increasingly fragile political stability.
Ericq Pierre, Haiti’s representative to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, said “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.”
In a statement before Wednesday’s anniversary, President Barack Obama praised humanitarian efforts to provide people with food, water and health care but noted that progress in reconstruction has been too slow.
“Too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians, progress has not come fast enough,” Obama said.
He said “Haiti can and must lead the way” but added: “The international community must now fulfill the pledges it has made to ensure a strong and sustained long-term effort.”
In an Op-ed in Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper, Pierre asked that on the anniversary itself, foreigners leave Haitians alone.
“I ask only one day per year, from 2011 on, to enable us to mourn our dead … to try to understand how and why we got where we are,” he wrote. “We need to find some peace.”