Three years after Haiti was hit by a disastrous earthquake, over 358,000 people continue to live in makeshift camps spread around Port-au-Prince, where they remain exposed to crime and diseases, such as the cholera outbreak affecting the country.
The 2010 earthquake claimed the lives of over 250,000 people, as concrete buildings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and surrounding towns came crashing down on their residents, and left over 1.5 million people homeless and dispossessed.
On the third anniversary of the earthquake, camp residents as well as field aid organizations emphasize that recovery is painfully slow, despite the billion dollar aid donations.
Many of the camps have become semi-permanent settlements, similar to the shanty towns in which many Haitians already lived prior to the earthquake. The conditions in camps have been further worsened by additional dangers and problems, such as the cholera outbreak, allegedly caused by sewage from a UN military base, which led to 8,000 deaths and sickened around 635,000 people. Camp residents also complain about child prostitution and the numerous instances of rape in the camps. At the same time, unemployment in Haiti remains rampant at around 70 percent.
The perceived lack of progress has determined some donors to stop or cut down their donations. Most recently, Canada announced that it would review its aid contributions.
Nevertheless, according to the international aid agency Oxfam, one of my main actors in the reconstruction effort, progress has been made, but in an uncoordinated matter, as it lacked the central government’s assistance. The agency added that is important to bear in mind the fact that this happened in a country which had suffered weak governance, political instability and widespread poverty even before the 2010 disaster. According to the U.S. State Department, before the earthquake, around 80 percent of Haitians lived on less than $2 a day, almost as many were unemployed and less than 12 percent had access to electricity.
Still, there are some signs of positive recovery as well. Around 80 percent of the over 10 million cubic meters of debris have been removed from the streets. Some of the rubble was used in reconstructing homes. At the same time, the number of people living in camps has been reduced since 2010, as many homes have been repaired and rebuilt.
The government has closed several temporary camps and has provided cash grants and rental subsidies to more than 53,000 people, in order to help them move back into their neighborhoods. According to a UNDP official, however, what is important is not simply getting people out of the camps, but ensuring that they can return to safe neighborhoods, where they have access to basic services.
The Haitian government has also made efforts to rebuilt the country. Recently, it created the Cooperation for Foreign Development Aid (CAED), a Haitian agency that replaces the International Reconstruction Commission for Haiti, co-chaired by Bill Clinton, whose own business fund for Haiti, run with George W. Bush, closed its operations in December 2012. The CAED aims to mark a renewal of aid sovereignty for Haiti and to direct reconstruction funds more directly to the government’s priorities. The government has also started investing in tourism, as it recently signed a new deal with Montreal-based tour operator Air Transat as well the country’s first five-star hotel, which aims to revive the coastal resort town of Jacmel. However, tourism is an unreliable base for economic development, as was shown by some of its fellow Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica.