Haiti: Misery amid the ruins

Six months after the earthquake, relief efforts in Haiti have stalled. 

Six months after “the worst natural calamity to befall any one country in modern times,” the international effort to rebuild Haiti has stalled, said Jose de Cordoba in The Wall Street Journal. The 1.5 million Haitians who lost their homes in January’s devastating earthquake still live in tent cities; billions in promised aid from foreign countries has yet to materialize; “and everywhere there is rubble.” The outpouring of generosity that followed the quake, which killed 230,000 Haitians, has slowed to a trickle, giving rise to fears that the world has “lost the sense of urgency” to help this troubled country. In desperation, the homeless have set up camps atop a garbage dump, in a cemetery, even on a median strip in Port-au-Prince, said Deborah Sontag in The New York Times. “Nobody tells us anything,” said Micheline Felix, 30, who lives in a fragile shanty on that strip, between two lanes of rushing traffic. “It seems like they are waiting for us to wash away with the first big rain.”

Haiti’s progress is literally being blocked by rubble, said Reginald DesRoches, also in The New York Times. The debris from 280,000 destroyed homes and buildings still clogs the streets of Port-au-Prince—enough “to fill five Louisiana Superdomes.” Haitians are paid $5 a day to clear the rubble with shovels and wheelbarrows, but at that rate, the cleanup will take at least 20 years. More ambitious reconstruction projects have been delayed, said Scott Hiaasen and Jacqueline Charles in The Miami Herald, because funding hasn’t materialized. Just 10 percent of the $10 billion pledged by the international community has come through. “Millions and millions have been received,” said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, “and we have no idea what they have done with that money.”

Money alone can’t fix Haiti, said Stephen Johnson in Foreign Policy. Even before the quake, Haiti was a failed state dependent on foreign help. To create real hope, Haiti needs an educated population, which means creating a publicly funded school system, and a government based on small municipalities and neighborhood associations, so that Haitians can learn self-rule from the ground up. Yes, short-term financial aid is still necessary. But unless Haitians develop an educated workforce and a competent government, “peacekeepers and aid donors will still be running the show” two decades from now.

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