Monday, 10 January 2011

Haiti earthquake - one year on: international failure, suffering, but also resilience

Photograph: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images 


Haiti one year on looks depressingly similar to Haiti six months ago. Things have hardly moved:  the country is still in ruins, nearly one million people are still living under tents and tarpaulin and only 5% of rubble left by the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake has been cleared.

An Oxfam report, published ahead of the earthquake anniversary on Wednesday, says government dithering and lack of coordination between aid agencies and donors have crippled rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

The destruction of the capital and death of an estimated 230,000 people prompted a huge international relief effort last year, with $2.1bn (£1.4bn) pledged. Thousands of aid agencies and missionary groups flocked into the Caribbean nation.  But according to the UN's special envoy for Haiti, only 42% of that was spent.

The country's Oxfam's director said near paralysis in Haiti's government had been compounded by mistakes in the international response. "Too many donors from rich countries have pursued their own aid priorities and have not effectively coordinated amongst themselves or worked with the Haitian government.”

The agency also accused the interim Haiti recovery commission, led by the former US president Bill Clinton and Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, of being "lacklustre" in managing funds and improving Haiti's technical capacity to spend them.

Haiti's sense of drift was underlined by last week's announcement that political wrangling has delayed the second round of the disputed presidential election until February, leaving Haiti's leadership also in limbo.

To a litany of woes – unemployment, cholera, extreme poverty – an Amnesty International report last week added sexual violence. Armed men prey with impunity on girls and women in displacement camps, worsening the trauma of having lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones, says the report.

But as cholera and political instability dominate headlines around the quake's one-year anniversary, life goes on in Haiti, even in the shadow of tragedy. People do what they can to cope.

AlertNet, the global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, has created a space for ordinary Haitians to tell their story.   Their multimedia documentary One-Day in Port-au-Prince transports us to the streets and tent cities of Haiti’s capital.  Each of the 14 people featured, tell their story in their own words and evoke issues central to the country’s recovery, from education and health to resettlement and reconstruction.

From the homeless schoolgirl who studies science by candlelight to the doctor who built a makeshift operating theatre in the ruins of a hospital, One Day in Port-au-Prince tells stories of resilience, ingenuity and courage.

There is a Voodoo priest who takes a stand against mass burials, a young mother forced to sell her own body, a former professional goalkeeper who rhapsodises about soccer's power to heal and a woman who sells textbooks yet can't afford to send her own kids to school. 

AlterNet hope that "One Day in Port-au-Prince" will be the beginning of an exchange between those who are doing their best to cope with the Haiti quake and people around the world who support Haiti's recovery.

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