Haiti’s Progress (Or Lack Thereof) One Year Later


Today marks the one year anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti last year which left Port-au-Prince leveled and 230,000 dead but some residents say not much has changed since.

“Life hasn’t progressed at all since the earthquake” 63-year-old Feralia François told TIME magazine while standing on the rubble that was once her home.

“For us, every morning when we wake up and see this, it’s still Jan. 12, 2010,” added Georgina Jean, a neighbor.”

Among many setbacks, one of the major issues is that 95% of the rubble still hasn’t been removed.

From TIME Magazine:

Unfortunately, on the first anniversary of one of history’s worst natural disasters, François’ despair is still vastly more common among Haitians than Labrousse’s optimism. The quake drew a remarkable emergency response from the international community. It also prompted ambitious plans to reconstruct, even reinvent, the hemisphere’s poorest nation — to “build it back better,” as the mantra went. “But the recovery process really hasn’t begun yet,” argues Leslie Voltaire, an urban architect and presidential candidate. Two-thirds of the 1.5 million Haitians left homeless by the quake still live in tents, and fewer than half the 45,000 t-shelters that the U.N. and other housing organizations had hoped to build by now have been erected.

The biggest impediment to the reconstruction is the most basic. “Nothing can really be done,” Voltaire notes, “until the rubble is removed.” And only 5% of the up to 22 million cubic yards of heavy debris has been tackled. While it took more than two years to clear less than half that amount of rubble from the Indonesian province of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, at the current rate of removal it could take another 19 years to clear Haiti.

Facts On Progress:

•An $8 million grant from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), two American NGOs, Cooperative Housing Foundation International (CHF) and Project Concern International (PCI), have helped connect Ravine Pintade to running water, set up a health clinic, installed latrines and built a daycare center. Most important, they’ve rented heavy machinery, and employed local workers, to extract the tons of rubble choking the bidonville’s entrances and arteries.

•Kids are playing soccer again, and residents can expect sturdy, temporary housing, or “t-shelters,” in the coming months.

•Washington has so far spent $100 million on hauling debris, with some of the money coming from the $1.15 billion the U.S. pledged to Haitian recovery last March. “Rubble removal,” says Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff, “is endemic to the success of any infrastructure project.” Gabriel Verret, executive director of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), insists that the smaller rubble work that his agency and NGOs like CHF have undertaken “must be duplicated on a massive scale” now with massive contractors.

Facts On Setbacks:

•Of the $9 billion that other donor nations pledged last year — only 10% of which has materialized — is earmarked for backhoes, earth movers and dump trucks. One reason, say disaster experts, is that rubble removal isn’t sexy. Governments and NGOs want to give taxpayers and donors the satisfaction of building new schools or supplying prosthetic limbs. Hauling rocks just doesn’t do it.

•Another obstacle is the enormity of the concrete deluge: Almost all of Port-au-Prince, a hyper-densely populated capital with criminally lax building codes, was reduced to gravel. Worse, the city’s jagged topography (San Francisco can seem flat by comparison) and its chaotic maze of narrow byways makes maneuvering large equipment an ordeal. Liability concerns are a further restraint: rubble removal often involves demolition and the risk of sending a condemned structure crashing onto other properties. Then there’s the problem of where to dump it. Right now, the only available site for Port-au-Prince rubble sits alongside one of the city’s most troubled slums, Cité Soleil — a spectacle that does little for the “build it back better” campaign. [TIME]