Share this article

print logo

Recovery lags year after quake in Haiti

The man's body lay facedown, his white dress shirt shining like wax in the sun, as he was unearthed in the ruins of a Port-au-Prince restaurant a year after the earthquake.

The bodies still being found in the rubble are a sign of how far Haiti must go to recover from a disaster that left the capital in ruins and is estimated to have killed more than 230,000 people.

In the days after the disaster last Jan. 12, volunteers and hundreds of aid groups flocked in with food, water and first aid that saved countless lives. But the effort to rebuild has been dwarfed by the extent of the need and a lack of leadership -- both in Haiti and internationally.

President Rene Preval did not speak publicly for days after the earthquake, and many observers have criticized him for not spearheading a coherent reconstruction effort, or making the hard policy decisions needed to rebuild.

Still, advocacy groups also blame the Haitian government's weakness on an international community that is not keeping its pledge of support.

"The international community has not done enough to support good governance and effective leadership in Haiti," the aid group Oxfam said in a recent report. "Aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistance, while donors are not coordinating their actions or adequately consulting the Haitian people."

Street markets were soon up and running after the earthquake, and Port-au-Prince's traffic is worse than ever. On Tuesday, Preval, his wife and other officials lay flowers at symbolic black crosses marking a mass grave outside the capital where hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims are buried.

But from the barren hillside, the destruction is clearly visible. The slogan "build back better," touted by former President Bill Clinton and others, remains an unfulfilled promise.

Less than 5 percent of the debris has been cleared, leaving enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world. In the broken building where the dead man was discovered last week, workers hired to clear rubble by hand found the remains of two other people.

About a million people remain homeless, and neighborhood-sized camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital. A cholera epidemic that erupted outside the earthquake zone has killed more than 3,600 people, and an electoral crisis between Preval's ruling party and its rivals threatens to break an increasingly fragile political stability.

In a statement before today's anniversary, President Obama praised humanitarian efforts to provide people with food, water and health care, but he noted that progress in reconstruction has been too slow.

"Too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians progress has not come fast enough," Obama said.

He said, "Haiti can and must lead the way" but added: "The international community must now fulfill the pledges it has made to ensure a strong and sustained long-term effort."

The slow progress starts with the omnipresent rubble.

The U.S.-based RAND organization said donors and the Haitian government are responsible for more not being cleared. Haitian workers were not supplied with boots, gloves and hard hats, while heavy equipment has been blocked by customs officials at the border, the report said. The government has also not designated sufficient dumping space.

"Unless rubble is cleared expeditiously, hundreds of thousands of Haitians will still be in tent camps during the 2011 hurricane season," which runs from June through November, the report said.

The earthquake was an opportunity to completely remake a broken education system where only half of school-age children were enrolled, often in poorly performing private schools with predatory fees.

But plans by the Inter-American Development Bank for safer buildings and a unified Creole-language curriculum have not come about.

The reconstruction effort overall is hampered by the failure to deliver or spend billions of dollars in promised aid.

Americans donated more than $1.4 billion to private organizations to help survivors and rebuild, but just 38 percent has been spent to provide recovery and rebuilding aid, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organizations.

Governments have not done better.

More than $5.6 billion was pledged at a March 31 donors conference for a period of 18 months. Only $1.28 billion has been delivered, about a quarter of the public money not including debt relief, according to Clinton's U.N. Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti. Some $3.2 billion in public funding is still owed.

The United States had originally pledged $1.15 billion for last year but moved nearly its entire pledge to this year following delays in Congress and by the Obama administration.

Clinton was supposed to rally governments and coordinate international efforts. He has had three prominent, simultaneous roles in Haiti's rebuilding: co-chairman of the reconstruction commission with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, U.N. special envoy for Haiti and head of his Clinton Foundation, a major donor.

Clinton has blamed bureaucracy and the world's financial troubles last year for the delay in securing the pledged funds.

There are no comments - be the first to comment