For the first few weeks after a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12th, Haiti seemed to be on everyone's mind. Six months later, many of us think little about the quake survivors who are still struggling. In an op-ed in today's New York Times, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive of Haiti and Bill Clinton, co-chairs of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, report, "only 10 percent of the $5.3 billion pledged by governments at a United Nations conference in March has been disbursed to the Haitian government. Without reliable schedules for disbursement, the commission is unable to plan, finance projects or respond quickly to immediate needs."
Efforts to meet residents' most immediate needs seem to have been fairly successful. The Christian Science Monitor cites Oxfam water and sanitation experts stating that the rate of drinking-water and toilet coverage in metropolitan Port-au-Prince is higher than it was before the quake, and no major outbreaks of waterborne diseases have been reported. According to the UN, 4.3 million people have received food aid and 1.5 million have received temporary shelter. The Associated Press reports that food markets are back to normal and medical care better is better than it was pre-quake.
The problem with these shelters is that they are only meant to be temporary, and efforts to ensure quake survivors get permanent shelter are proceeding far too slowly. Just clearing the rubble to build new housing is an arduous task with a long way left to go.
In addition to the devastating emotional toll of the quake, residents of these camps face cramped and insecure conditions. Attacks terrorize thousands of camp residents, especially women and girls; crime, the Associated Press reports, is more prevalent than it was pre-quake. Those who depend on fragile structures to shield them face constant worries about losing their shelter to a strong storm - and this year's hurricane season is predicted to be severe.
Haitian and international aid efforts deserve lots of credit for staving off the much worse disaster that could have occurred without their work on water, sanitation, food, and shelter. True recovery will take much more commitment and resources for many years to come.
P.S. One thing I've found very useful for understanding conditions in Haiti (including those that existed long before the quake) is the terrific series of podcasts from NPR's Planet Money team. I especially liked the one about how a seemingly simple solution could help mango farmers earn a lot more money - but, of course, it's not as simple as it might appear.
That Planet Money piece on the mango farmers was illuminating!
What's the difference between Haiti and Chile? In Haiti there were no building codes. In Chile there were building codes. In Haiti buildings collapsed, and people are more secure in tents. In Chile buildings didn't collapse.