In Port-au-Prince, every moment of every day is marked by the 12 January earthquake. Even 6 months on, just the act of driving through the Haitian capital can be a trial. In some neighbourhoods, rubble from countless destroyed buildings still lies strewn across the roads and pavements.
At times, cars and buses have to edge over the remains of shops, businesses and homes, often tipping on their sides as they go. But the grid-locked traffic, and the rubble, are just some of the many reminders of Haiti’s worst natural disaster in over 200 years. The full reality of what is going on here is far worse.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in makeshift camps. Most are in exactly the same tents they were given, or found just hours or days after the quake struck.
Life under canvas is tough. Most camps – some home to 7,000 people, some to 75,000 – provide little or no food or water, few showers, limited toilets and no electricity. The tents, which wouldn’t look out of place on a European campsite, are tiny. They are not designed to provide a comfortable quality of life under a beating Caribbean sun – or in a hurricane zone. And certainly not for months on end.
People are understandably frustrated. They talk of being forgotten and abandoned.
As one man, Claude Douge, asked me: “Why don’t people just come and talk to us and ask us what we need? How come nobody in the international community is saying anything?”
Claude would probably be pleased to know that over recent months, questions are being asked. And rightly so. After the quake, nations from around the globe pledged short and long-term support, and most chimed in agreement that the international community would never again turn a blind eye to Haiti’s plight.
So what has happened since January? There have been a catalogue of problems that, in their own small ways, have contributed to the slow progress.
In the days and weeks following, international agencies from around the world flew in to assist. There were logistical problems; from the airport becoming backlogged with aid deliveries to the fact that most roads and thoroughfares throughout Port-au-Prince were blocked by fallen buildings.
But, despite all the rhyme and reason as to why things have moved so slowly here, over the last 6 months it has become increasingly apparent that there are simply no ‘quick fixes’ for Haiti. For Haiti is a case all its own, and a complex one.
Hundreds of thousands of people in camps still need urgent humanitarian assistance – and fast. People must be fed – and they must have access to water and medicine. Immediate needs – including providing better shelter for those who continue to live under tarpaulins held up by little more than wooden sticks – must be met. Delivery of international commitments is part of this process.
But building a strong and well supported Haitian state must be the first priority. Ask people living in the camps today what they think of the government and most will shake their heads or laugh. “We don’t have a government here”, one man told me. “The people from the government have never been here to find out what life is like for us.”
Rebuilding Haiti is about some of the biggest and most complex development challenges, many of which could take several generations to overcome. So, while criticism is valid and progress has indeed been painfully slow, the aid effort is just part of the picture. Haiti’s reality – and its long-term needs – are sadly far more complex than they may appear. Development here will undoubtedly take time.
Jo Barrett is Media Officer at Progressio, an international development agency that is working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help local communities ensure their voices are heard in the reconstruction process. She travelled to Port-au-Prince and the bordering areas with the Dominican Republic in June to visit Progressio linked development work, and spent many days in the camps talking to ordinary people about their concerns and frustrations.
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