Fact-Checking Haiti's Death Toll

| Wed Jun. 1, 2011 3:47 PM PDT

We've all heard the numbers quantifying the horror of Haiti's 2010 earthquake: more than 300,000 dead, a million left homeless. Now a report is calling those figures into question.

The unpublished survey, commissioned by the US Agency for International Development, puts the death toll between 46,000 and 85,000. It also says there are 375,000 people still living in tent camps, whereas the International Organization for Migration, which does a lot of work with the displaced in Haiti, says there's 680,000. The Haitian government is standing by the higher numbers. A State Department spokeswoman says the report still has some inconsistencies. USAID's Haiti mission director says the commission that did the report isn't really qualified to settle the dispute. When I was in Haiti the first time, I heard some local businessmen laughing about how there was no way the death toll and the homelessness rate could possibly be as high as their government was claiming.

Now, I loooove me some fact-checking, but I'm having trouble getting worked up about this dispute. I understand it's important for the sake of, like, history. Also, analysts say the lower numbers might affect the plan to pump billions of dollars into the country for aid and reconstruction. I think it's a game-changer when a report concludes that, say, the war in Iraq killed 100,000 Iraqis in the first 18 months, rather than a widely reported 19,000. But whether 400,000 Haitians are displaced instead of 800,000 doesn't really change the overall fuckedness of the situation for me in this case. Either way, huge pieces of the entire country still need to be rebuilt. Either way, lots and lots of promised help still hasn't arrived. And honestly those displacement camps are so impossibly awful that nine people still living in them a year and a half after the quake would be cause for concern. Whichever way the dispute settles, hopefully it won't further impede the abysmal progress in the country's reconstruction.

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