Five years ago today, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake destroyed large regions of Haiti especially Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. For the poorest country in the western hemisphere, the earthquake only exacerbated poverty matters for its citizens and its standing in the world economy. An estimated 230,000 people lost their lives and 1.5 million more were displaced. Since 2010, $13 billion has been raised to aid the small Caribbean island country, but where has the money gone?
By most accounts, Haiti is doing much better than it was five years ago, and yet there is still a long way to go to provide permanent housing for its citizens and finally do away with the tent cities that became ubiquitous with a slow-going recovery effort.
“Haiti’s recovery has not been easy. There have been – and continue to be – setbacks along the way, and there is much work still to be done to ensure political and institutional stability, democratic governance and sustainable development,” said the UN chief, Ban Ki Moon in a statement commemorating the five year anniversary of the earthquake.
While some Haitians have moved into permanent housing outside of Port-au-Prince many complain that the new homes, while much better than living in squalid tent cities, are too far away from Haiti’s capital to work. Jobs were promised near their new homes, but those have not yet materialized. And, there is still a looming question about the 8,000 cholera deaths that occurred after human waste was inadvertently dumped into major waterways by Nepalese UN workers in 2010. 700,000 people were also sickened by the disease and continue to be plagued today. Haitian groups have tried since 2013 to sue the United Nations because of the cholera epidemic, but last week, a judge ruled that the UN could not be sued.
If that weren’t enough, there is the current issue about Haiti’s long overdue elections. Haitians have been taking to the streets calling for the ouster of current president, Martelly. On Sunday, Martelly and Haiti’s four prominent opposition groups agreed to work together to put elections back on the schedule by the end of the year. How long the agreement will last and if the agreement will formally will become law still remains to be seen.
What’s more, Haiti remains vulnerable to an annual hurricane season where high winds and torrential rains continue to devastate the island and push back or stall development efforts.
In 2012 the New York Times published an exceptional flow chart showing where the money went in its piece, Where Did the Money Go? Three years on, an updated chart would be fitting on this anniversary date. 80,000 people, it has been reported, still live in temporary tent housing. And it seems that the funding well is beginning to dry up amid a fragile government.
“Only with increased stability, including the holding of free and fair elections, now overdue, can Haiti ensure the rights of its citizens and attract the foreign investment needed to create economic opportunity and reduce poverty,” Secretary of State John Kerry said last week.
What’s Next for Haiti?
Despite the less-than-optimistic news about Haiti’s recovery five years after the earthquake there are bright spots of development largely led by NGOs, the UN, and the private sector such as PSI’s successful work with sex workers to keep them safe, innovative fishing and agricultural projects, and Zambi Beni’s work with children with special needs.
And without question, the only way forward for Haiti is to improve its government and ensure its citizens that they matter by holding free, fair, and on-time elections.