3 Years After the Earthquake, Haiti Is Still in Shambles

Benjamin Rusnak/Food For The Poor/ZUMAPress

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The devastating Haiti earthquake that killed 217,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless happened three years ago Saturday. For a year or so, the drama captured plenty of headlines and human interest; our own human rights reporter, Mac McClelland, traveled to Port-au-Prince to document the hazards that befell Haitians and the morass that doomed much of the nation’s inbound aid. This year’s anniversary hasn’t generated much media attention, but that’s not because everything in the island nation is fixed. Almost 360,000 people remain in tent camps, and the country’s infrastructure is still in shambles. A lot of that is due to the failures of the international community.

Only half of the $13.34 billion in international aid allocated for Haiti reconstruction has been disbursed. And of that, only a small portion has gone to “reconstruction,” strictly defined. Instead, the New York Times reported in December, “much of the so-called recovery aid was devoted to costly current programs, like highway building and HIV prevention, and to new projects far outside the disaster zone.”

Housing has been one of the biggest failures. As the Times reported, “Just a sliver of the total disbursement—$215 million—has been allocated to the most obvious and pressing need: safe, permanent housing.”

“The numbers are an indictment of how the international community has once again failed Haiti, in this case in its time of greatest need,” said Mark Weisbrot, research co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“When you look at things, you say, ‘Hell, almost three years later, where is the reconstruction?'” Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former prime minister of Haiti, told the Times.

Then there’s that whole cholera thing. Not only did UN troops cause an ongoing deadly epidemic in the country, but as Weisbrot points out, it was exacerbated by the fact that the US had for years blocked loans for sanitation upgrades in order to undermine the government of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That’s a trend that recent rebuilding efforts have perpetuated. “Despite vows to the contrary, the Haitian government has been further weakened through the rebuilding bonanza that followed the earthquake. The Haitian government was side-stepped as usual, getting just 1 percent of relief money, and Haitian contractors were also excluded, getting just 1.2 percent of USAID contracts,” Weisbrot says.

Things probably won’t be much rosier next year for Haitians. Experts estimate that on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake, 200,000 Haitians will still be living in tent camps.

For fuller coverage of the Haiti earthquake’s aftermath, navigate over to Mother Jones‘ 2011 investigative package, “Aftershocks.”

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