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Haiti mired in misery
A year after the devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, what happened to the world's promise to help rebuild the country?
A boy walks through the destroyed Port-au-Prince cathedral before the anniversary services began. Less than a tenth of the rubble has been cleared in the capital city.
A boy walks through the destroyed Port-au-Prince cathedral before the anniversary services began. Less than a tenth of the rubble has been cleared in the capital city.
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hat does Haiti look like now?
It’s an utter disaster zone. Less than a tenth of the rubble from the hundreds of thousands of collapsed homes, churches, and other buildings has been cleared. Nearly all of the 1.5 million people who lost their homes — some 15 percent of the population — are still living in makeshift camps, in tents that are tattered and filthy after a year of use. Amid the squalor, robbery and rape are common. Even after a cholera epidemic broke out in October, killing 3,600 people and sickening about 170,000, few people were moved out of the overcrowded camps around Port-au-Prince. “I never imagined that a year later, we’d still be living in such absolute misery,” resident Micheline Michel told The Economist.

Where did all the aid money go?
Much of it still hasn’t arrived. Most of the global outpouring of private charitable contributions in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 quake went to rescue organizations like the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Those groups worked in the first few months to dig out injured survivors and reclaim the bodies of some 230,000 dead. International governments pledged nearly $10 billion for reconstruction at a U.N. conference in March, but only about a tenth of that has been paid out — and much of it has gone toward debt relief rather than building projects. The United States, for its part, pledged $1 billion, but has so far spent just $120 million for reconstruction and $200 million for debt relief.

Why hasn’t that money come?
Partly because there’s nowhere to send the money with any assurance that it will be used properly. The U.N. set up the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, an executive body composed of equal numbers of Haitian and international members, as a central clearinghouse for aid. But despite co-chairman Bill Clinton’s vow to “build back better,” the body has met only rarely and has not been able to coordinate the efforts of charity groups and nongovernmental organizations active in the country. Meanwhile, a succession of crises has stymied long-term planning. “The end of the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, initially expected in the autumn, has been delayed by a succession of dramatic events, including bad weather, a climate of violence, and cholera,” says Stephanie Stuart, director of Handicap International UK.

Can’t Haiti’s government act?
What government? Haiti’s state structures were weak and corrupt even before the quake, when they proved unable to deal with rioting over food prices or to rebuild damage from hurricanes. They’ve only gotten worse since then. Last May, the parliament simply dissolved because the country was in no condition to hold an election to replace expiring mandates. René Préval, the unpopular lame-duck president, was granted emergency powers but achieved little. Elections for a new president and parliament were finally held in November, but the proceedings were an undemocratic shambles, permeated by disorganization and outright fraud. Tens of thousands of people who had died in the earthquake were still on the voter rolls; hundreds of thousands of survivors were not. Violence and voter intimidation were so widespread that the Organization of American States withdrew its observers during election day, leaving the subsequent vote count unsupervised.

Who won?
We still don’t know. The election was such a mess that most candidates called for a do-over. The official, highly dubious results of the 34-candidate presidential race called for a runoff between Préval’s handpicked candidate, the unpopular Jude Célestin, and Mirlande Manigat, a lawyer and the wife of a former president. Supporters of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a popular musician widely expected to do well, cried foul and protested in the streets, prompting the OAS to promise a thorough recount. The runoff originally scheduled for Jan. 16 has been postponed at least until next month, but there’s no guarantee it will take place — and it’s still unclear whether Martelly will participate. Haiti’s popular Fanmi Lavalas party said this week that 2011 would be marked by a series of peaceful protests to obtain the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in exile in South Africa since February 2004.

Is there any progress at all?
Yes. Some 400,000 damaged houses have been inspected by structural engineers and marked for either demolition or repair. Individual families have managed to move out of the camps and even start small businesses, mostly with the help of micro-credit lending. And international companies have begun moving some operations to Haiti to provide desperately needed jobs. Coca-Cola, for example, is investing in the mango-juice industry, while several South Korean clothing manufacturers are building factories near Port-au-Prince. “What Haiti needs above all these days,” said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, “is these kinds of livelihoods for its people, not just shipments of food and clothing.”

A man with a mission
For a few months last year, helping Haiti was hip. Celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Pamela Anderson, and Jimmy Buffett toured the shattered country in a bid to inspire fans back home to open their wallets. But one star stayed on long after the news cameras left: Sean Penn. As founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Penn opened a refugee camp for 55,000 people that Haitian authorities say is one of the best run in the country. Penn, who moved to Haiti a week after the quake, has provided water, food, and medical treatment to thousands of displaced families. His group runs its own school for children in the camp. Recently, fed up with the U.N.’s lack of progress clearing debris, Penn began organizing refugees into teams to move rubble from the surrounding neighborhoods. “There’s no end point,” Penn said. “This is where I’ll be when I’m not working, for the rest of my life.”

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