Ten Years After Haiti’s Earthquake: A Decade of Aftershocks and Unkept Promises

  • Posted on: 11 January 2020
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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JANUARY 08, 2020 06:00 AM 

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake. The disaster claimed 316,000 lives, left 1.5 million homeless and another 1.5 million injured. As the anniversary approaches, the Miami Herald, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will look at questions around aid and rebuilding over the past decade in the series Haiti Earthquake: A Decade of Aftershocks. We invite our readers to share with us how the Haiti earthquake impacted their lives. Your comments may be used in future stories.


For nearly three years after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, Haiti’s main public square was a densely crowded tent city packed with makeshift huts made from cardboard, plywood and bedsheets in the shadow of a ruined presidential palace.  Walk through the Champ de Mars today and the displaced survivors of the quake who once called it home are long gone — replaced by ice cream vendors, novice student drivers and a new government administrative corridor in the center of the city.  The razed palace still hasn’t been rebuilt, but several of the 44 public buildings that crumbled in less than a minute, including the Supreme Court, have been reconstructed, while a new $89 million Parliament complex is under way even as lawmakers flee downtown Port-au-Prince for the hills due to rising violence.


But a decade of political and economic aftershocks and billions of dollars in mismanaged and unaccounted-for aid have left the country struggling with its recovery, and no more ready today to withstand another massive tremor than it was the day the 7.0 magnitude quake struck.  “What has been done is cosmetic,” said Leslie Voltaire, an architect and urban planner who was involved in reconstruction planning in the early days of the recovery. “When I am going through the city and looking, the masons have the same habits. They are building the same way they used to. There is no control, no supervision by public works or by the municipality to see if they are doing it right. “I am afraid another big earthquake will produce the same results. We have not even had drills in the schools or in the public administration to know what to do, how to react when you have an earthquake,” he added. “So we have not learned, really.”


The earthquake, which lasted 35 seconds and was followed by several aftershocks, left an estimated 316,000 dead and 1.5 million injured. More than 1.5 million Haitians were left homeless after more than 400,000 houses crumbled into broken slabs of concrete and twisted steel. In the aftermath, donors and the Haitian government promised better construction, free public housing and a revitalization of Haiti’s devastated economy.  None of it has materialized as envisioned.  Ten years later, the Parliament has not voted on a new quake-resistant building code. Some of the expensive and ambitious projects promised, like a new and still unfinished $100 million general hospital and the $300 million Caracol Industrial Park, have yet to realize their potential, and the economy, which saw some growth after an estimated $7.61 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction aid was pumped in during the first two years after the earthquake, is in ruins.  “The hope for a new day in Haiti was something people really believed in and really engaged in,” said Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, which pledged $2 billion in aid at the International Donors Conference at the United Nations in New York in late March 2010.  “Unfortunately what I find today is that the energy of the donor community [compared with] right after the earthquake and today, has truly changed,” Moreno said in an interview. “The enthusiasm to see change in Haiti has waned over time.”


The earthquake decimated the southern portion of Haiti, leveling more than 100,000 buildings in metropolitan Port-au-Prince and the cities of Jacmel and Léogâne, where the epicenter was. A post-disaster assessment by the U.N. estimated the destruction at $7.9 billion.  At the 2010 donors’ conference in New York, 58 governments and organizations pledged $8.33 billion to reconstruct Haiti over 10 years. Of that amount, the donors committed to spending $5.37 billion during 2010-12. Outside of the U.N conference, the donors pledged an additional $5 billion for the first two years after the quake.  Questions about what happened to the money dominate many discussions, and an effort was recently launched by Dr. Paul Farmer, the former special adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General, to get up-to-date information on the disbursements of the two pots of money. The exercise has proven difficult, with billions of dollars in pledges still unaccounted for.  Six of the top 10 donors did not respond to Farmer’s request, making it impossible to draw conclusions about the disbursement trend, Farmer’s U.N. office said. Only Spain, France, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank responded. The six that didn’t respond: Venezuela, Canada, the European Community, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Brazil and the International Monetary Fund.


An analysis of the $10.37 billion pledged for 2010-12 did show that more than half, $6.43 billion, of the pledges committed for humanitarian and recovery assistance was disbursed. This includes direct budget support from a few countries to the Haitian government. But less than 10 percent of the $6.43 billion went directly to the Haitian government, and even less, 0.6 percent, went to Haitian businesses and organizations, Farmer’s office noted.  Farmer’s office did not factor in the more than $800 million in debt forgiveness Venezuela, the Inter-American Development Bank and other international financial institutions provided to Haiti after the quake “Though the post-earthquake narrative was that the $10.7 billion that donors had pledged would put Haiti on the path to a better future, it did not cover much more than the cost of the economic and physical damage incurred,” Farmer’s office said in an analysis titled Lessons from Haiti.


Nowhere are the broken promises of reconstruction more apparent than in the squalid camps that continue to exist today, and where on Jan. 12 some Haitians will mark 10 years of living under a tarp or behind pieces of rusty tin, with no running water, no latrines, no electricity and no security.  The makeshift settlements are no longer in plain sight on the Champ de Mars or the public soccer fields. Today, they are mostly invisible throughout the capital as residents scrape out a living in traffic-clogged Port-au-Prince. Yet the “cities” have outlasted torrential rain, heavy winds, a deadly cholera epidemic that killed at least 10,000 people, and the seven governments and four presidents that have failed them.


Cami Etienne, far right, talks about the situation in Haiti in the company of some of the children who live in a makeshift camp located off a dirt road in the interior of Delmas. “Nothing has changed. On the contrary, it’s gotten worse,” said Cami Etienne, 56, a father of four who lives in a hilltop tent city in the Fragneauville neighborhood at the end of a dirt road in the city of Delmas. “With each passing day, we cannot buy anything, even the basic amenities that we need in order to live. We can’t even afford water.” Etienne said he never imagined his life would come to this after he was forced to run out into the streets with one of his children as his home shook violently and then collapsed during the quake. “It’s an awful life when you can’t give your children a house to live in,” he said, standing at the camp’s entrance where clothes hung on lines in the open air. Stopping mid-sentence, he turned around and pointed out his tent: pieces of raggedy tarp fastened together. “This is not me.” The camp has no name, but the vestiges of early relief efforts by some of the non-governmental organizations that rushed to Haiti are still visible.


There are weathered but still sturdy benches in a common sitting area painted in pink with artistic accents. There is also a play area for the many children, who on this particular day are more interested in their game of hide-and-seek than the pink plastic tunnel on the ground. Many of the decaying tin shacks are painted in a variety of colors. There is little concrete-block construction. Christian Mervilus, 41, said he moved to the area a year ago from another encampment in Faustin to escape the recurrent rapes and killings. “I was living in a tent and I came here and I am still in a tent,” he said. “If we had money, we would not be here.”


Mervilus said that after 10 years, he hasn’t seen any serious efforts to help Haitians like himself. Most of the 1.5 million people displaced by the earthquake are back in neighborhoods, a feat that the International Organization for Migration says should be recognized. The U.N. agency, which has been in charge of tracking the number of internally displaced people and relocating them back into neighborhoods, says there are 32,788 people today in 22 camps. The Delmas camp where Mervilus and Etienne live is not among the official sites.


Also not to be found on that official tally: the 300,000-plus people living in the biggest post-quake informal settlement, Canaan. The decision to exclude Canaan, which derives its name from the biblical promised land, was made in 2013 by IOM at the request of the Haitian government’s Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit. A sprawling area once deemed unacceptable for an industrial park, Canaan is located 10 miles north of the capital. It was settled after the U.S. government, actor Sean Penn and U.N. aid organizations pressured then-President René Préval to expropriate land for the state to use for quake survivors living in areas considered to be at high risk for flooding and landslides. The area was promised as a place where quake survivors would be able to rebuild their lives with permanent homes as part of a newly developed community offering running water, electricity and nearby factory jobs. However, as soon as Haitians learned the government had expropriated the land, they moved in. Some were quake survivors who were relocated by aid agencies. Others were squatters who bought illegally sold plots.


The permanent housing never got built, so residents started to build their own, constructing permanent concrete homes throughout the area. Today it includes more than a dozen communities — some controlled by gangs — and is bordered by two national roads. “We have created the biggest slum in the Caribbean,” said Voltaire, who has done consultant work in Canaan for the government. Haitian government spokesman Eddy Jackson Alexis did not respond to a Miami Herald request to meet with Clément Bélizaire, executive director of the Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit, which has been working with the U.N. to build roads and other infrastructure in Canaan and is overseeing the reconstruction of public buildings. While Canaan is the most vivid example of Haitians finding their own solution without government help, it is not the only one where Haitians have taken it upon themselves to try to set permanent roots.


Teren Toto, Toto’s Land, sits on a hill along Avenue Albert Jode not far from the U.S. Embassy on the border of the cities of Tabarre and Delmas in the capital’s metropolitan area. “Everybody is fighting to take care of themselves,” said Jean-Canel Clessidor, 37, who says he moved to Toto after the earthquake. “If you are going to wait around for the government to do for you, then you will never find a leader who will help you.” Goats wander along a makeshift dirt road that passes by the Teren Toto camp on the border of the cities of Tabarre and Delmas in Haiti.  Clessidor said he thought his stay in Toto would be temporary. But after three months of watching the wave of charities offering food, tarps and temporary shelters made of plywood but no permanent housing, he gave up.“Now, we don’t have any hope of anything changing,” he said.


Many in the camps say their hope for change is not with the leaders who have time and again failed them and use them as political pawns, but with God. “Nobody sees us,” Sadrack Charles, 32, said with desperation in his voice. “Imagine I am a young man, a young man who can work, and with all you have to offer, you’re not working. Every day you wake up and sit here, not serving a purpose. Every year that passes is a year lost.” Charles, whose house is sturdier than most, said he built it sheet by sheet, sometimes sacrificing a meal to use the money for the zinc. “When you are looking at the situation of the country, everyone has suffered. Foreigners are afraid to come invest,” he said. “We don’t live well. ... The country is finished.” Behind Charles’ shack is a small canal. “When it rains, it’s miserable for us. It’s nothing but,” he said.


Manette Francois, 58, said that before the earthquake her life “was beautiful.” Sure, it was tough with nine children, she said, but she had a job as a maid. She lost her job as well as her home in the earthquake. “If you see where I am living now, when it rains, I have to take a basin to collect the water,” she said. Perched at the top of the hill, where residents have laid sandbags to stop mudslides and help them climb the hillside, Francois’ tin shack doubles as living quarters and neighborhood grocery store. In a back room, a blue bucket is nestled up in the tarp-covered ceiling to catch rainwater. The brewing humanitarian crisis, skyrocketing inflation now hovering at 20 percent annually, and the drastic fall of the domestic currency, the gourde, have meant that her customers can’t even afford to purchase a candle, much less a bag of rice. Francois said she would like to get out of the camp, but she doesn’t see how she would even sustain herself if she were to move back into a regular neighborhood.


Junior Alexis, one of Teren Toto’s two leaders, called the camp “a tiny country within another country,” referring to the lack of government and services and to residents’ inhumane existence. “The Haitian government does not respect people’s rights,” he said. “There are people here who want to live as human beings.” The camp is densely packed with shacks, separated by narrow dirt paths that are one hurricane away from being washed away. While many Haitians are still living in tin shacks, others have managed to build sturdier homes from concrete blocks. Located off the main road and up a winding hill, Teren Toto is the largest of six makeshift settlements that make up Village Caradeux. According to 2017 camp estimates from the International Organization for Migration, there were 10,162 displaced individuals living in Caradeux, and of them, 4,759 lived in Toto.


In any other country that had experienced a disaster like Haiti’s, Alexis said, the population would have recovered already. But not in Haiti. “The people did not anticipate this,” he said. “The people thought they were going to get out of the first phase they were in.” Alexis, 32, earns his living as a motorcycle taxi driver. He’s among the rare few in the camp with steady employment. A few years ago, IOM tried to clear the camp. Aid workers showed up accompanied by Haitian National Police officers. Residents, who served as their own security watch, fought back, using trees and rocks to prevent the police and workers from entering.


IOM Project Officer Marguerite Jean said it is true Caradeux was targeted for relocation purposes, but the registration required to relocate people and the necessary funding “at some point was no longer available.” A Haitian government official, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed the relocation attempt but said it was called off by a powerful lawmaker who warned that the people in the camps were his constituents and were not to be touched. “Every five years they come here and mislead us,” Alexis said about Haiti’s politicians. President Michel “Martelly sat here and misled us. After Martelly, Jovenel Moïse came to a school we have over here. ... He said, ‘There are a bunch of guys who are playing dominoes. I am going to teach you, I am going to take you out of playing dominoes,’ ” Alexis recalled. Where are they today? Every house has dominoes ... because they do not have anything else to do.”


IOM Director Giuseppe Loprete says he understands the frustrations of those still in the camps, but there is no template for dealing with a disaster of the magnitude of Haiti’s. “It’s not just Haiti. Reconstruction, rebuilding a country takes years, decades, we can say,” said Loprete. “We can compare some places around the world. ... Five years after the tsunami [in Indonesia] we were creating housing for people still displaced.” He acknowledges that more progress could have been achieved in Haiti if it were not for the political instability and “if the environment was more functional, if there were more political decisions taken in due time ... with better use of resources.” “We feel like we’re going backwards to early 2004,” he said, referring to the period when a bloody rebellion forced the president’s ouster and the U.N. had to send in a peacekeeping mission. “Instead of 10 years later, there are people here thinking we are living the situation of instability like five, six years before [the quake] in terms of violence, criminality, everything.”


IOM has had its own difficulties attracting funding to shut down camps. Its most recent donation was $300,000 from the South Korean government, which it has used to clear camps in Léogâne, where a previously unknown fault line led to the earthquake. “No one now is interested in funding these activities,” Loprete said. That wasn’t always the case. In 2011, IOM partnered with the Haitian government’s housing unit to launch a pilot relocation program to return thousands of quake survivors residing in six camps back to the 16 neighborhoods they came from. After relocating more than 35,000 homeless families, Canada’s Foreign Affairs office stepped in and donated $18 million to help more people voluntarily return. Under the relocation program, camp residents received a voucher, equivalent to about $500 at the time, to rent a place for a year.


Felipe Munevar, director and representative for the U.N. Office for Project Services Haiti, said the government’s camp relocation program “was a success.” But he also noted one reality. “There was never going to be enough money to really address, you know, all of the potential beneficiaries that needed help,” said Munevar, whose agency helped quake survivors return home by repairing more than 1,200 damaged houses and by building 600 new housing units for those with titles. Munevar said while the U.N. agency would have liked to build more houses, it was not easy when there were so many legal questions surrounding ownership of property that had been damaged or destroyed. Some of the officials involved in the reconstruction say it was unreasonable for organizations, including aid agencies, to expect the government to build housing for people who did not have their own houses to begin with and were renters when the quake happened. In a few instances, houses were built, the homes weren’t necessarily free and construction was problematic. In one government project, Lumane Casimir, where the 344-square-foot houses are the size of a hotel room, some apartments stayed empty because the construction was poorly done and it was located far away from schools, markets and churches. In recent years, some recipients have even decided to stop paying rent.


Still, residents in Teren Toto insist that the best thing the Haitian government can do for them is build them houses — right where they currently are. They are not interested, they said, in the camp relocation program. They note that the money IOM provided to help them rent a place a few years ago was roughly the equivalent of $500 U.S., which is even less in today’s battered economy. “And after that, when the house’s lease is due?” Alexis said. “Those people will be in the streets.” The solution, he said, “is good, durable housing. What they can do for us inside Village Caradeux is good construction.”


Moreno, the IDB president, said donors really wanted to address the housing issue in Haiti but in the face of weak institutions and the country’s unwillingness to address its land titling problem, it was difficult for some donors to make the investments.. There was an earthquake, but there wasn’t an earthquake in the kind of institutional change that you need in Haiti to materialize a lot of this help, so that made it very difficult to deploy aid,” Moreno said. “We find ourselves now with literally a handful of the key donors.”


Reflecting on the past decade, Moreno said, there were two very different periods. The first was marked by the immediate response, and he and others saw that then-President Préval, who died in 2017, was “very committed.” The second came with Martelly and his hand-picked successor, Haiti’s current President Moïse, with his flagship “Caravan of Change” initiative to build roads in far-flung communities. “Martelly came with a lot of energy and as I see it, was a lost promise in the end,” Moreno said. “This president had a lot of energy looking at the whole idea of the Caravan, which sounded like something I had never seen in Haiti before, which is put all of the resources the government has to go after the poorest communities. “But somehow there are always all these big efforts that do not have staying power, either for political reasons or execution reasons,” Moreno said. “This is the frustrating thing.”


An earlier version of this story stated that 58 governments and organizations pledged $10.7 billion to reconstruct Haiti over 10 years, plus another $10.37 billion in recovery and humanitarian assistance for the first two years after the 2010 earthquake. The actual total figure pledged by the donor governments and organizations was $13.3 billion over 10 years.


Photo Credit: Miami Herald


Can Haiti Rise From the Ashes?

By James North


A family stands in front of their house in Canaan, a community of 300,000 on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that was created after the 2010 earthquake, on September 1, 2019. (Nick Kaiser / Getty Images)

Port-au-Prince—Exactly 10 years after the awful earthquake that killed anywhere from 60,000 to 250,000 people and destroyed much of this capital, everyone I know here says the effort to rebuild has been a colossal failure, and most also argue that the US government shares some of the blame.

Haitians also unanimously believe that the reconstruction aid—$16.3 billion was originally promised—either was never appropriated, was misused, or was stolen by Haiti’s small economic and political elite. Bill Clinton, who headed the effort to “Build Back Better,” has not dared to visit publicly here for many years.

What’s more, Haitians believe the US State Department is the major force today that keeps their current corrupt president in power. For nearly two years, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have held nationwide demonstrations, including a recent general strike that shut down the country for two months, but Jovenel Moïse somehow remains president. One longtime observer, an insider in a previous government, said simply, “If the US Embassy signaled that it was no longer supporting Moïse, he would be gone within hours.”

Even worse, many Haitians, even people who are not normally alarmist, fear their country could skid into civil war. Clandestine arms shipments are reportedly pouring in, and heavily armed gangs, many linked to the Moïse government, carry out one massacre after another.

I’ve known Jean Marcelin, a 56-year-old primary school teacher, since the 1990s, and he is by nature a calm person. But even he has had enough. We were driving the other day up one of the main arteries, Lalue (its official name is Avenue John Brown, after the 19th century American anti-slavery hero), and Marcelin burst out: “Every country in the world has corruption. But in the rich countries, the corrupt recognize that if they go too far the people will revolt. So the government provides a minimum: electricity 24 hours a day, safe running water, road repairs, a decent educational system.

“Here in Haiti, there is no minimum. We ordinary Haitians pay taxes like you do, but we only get electricity a few random hours a day, and we have no running water: We buy water by the bucket from young women who sell it in the street. No sewage system: We dig latrines in our yards and we pay men called bayakou to come regularly and clean them out. Education is not free, and the quality is poor. There is no minimum.”

Marcelin swerved to avoid an especially vicious pothole. “Look at the quality of our streets,” he exclaimed. “And when we march against the corruption, the government orders the police to shoot at us. No minimum. All we are asking for is a minimum.”

Over the holiday, there was a pause in the nationwide uprising, but everyone I talk to expects the resistance to resume. Yet the upheaval is scarcely reported in the United States. After the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, the American mainstream press raced here en masse, but this time around there is a news blackout (with the valuable exception of the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles). The US media apparently feels its audience prefers Haitians as victims rather than as a people with a proud history who are once again demanding their human rights.

The grim reality today is especially tragic because after the 2010 earthquake the outpouring of generosity from the United States and elsewhere prompted gratitude and raised hopes here. The immediate relief effort did help, by bringing emergency medical aid, water, and tents to house people from the 250,000 homes that were destroyed; the tents filled every square inch of open space in Port-au-Prince.

But once relief turned to reconstruction, the United States and the rest of the rich world made terrible decisions. Bill Clinton and his advisers ignored Haitians and imposed a disastrous plan. They should have concentrated on agriculture; instead, the centerpiece of their scheme was a giant $300 million garment manufacturing project that was supposed to create 65,000 new jobs in an enclave called Caracol, more than 100 miles to the north of the capital. A superb detailed report by Jacob Kushner has painfully documented how the US-instigated project is a complete failure, which has so far generated only 13,000 of the promised jobs—in a nation of 11 million mostly poor people.

Here in Port-au-Prince, the only new buildings Haitians can see are a few luxury hotels, nearly empty these days, and a handful of unsightly government office blocks, some of which are unfinished. The National Art Museum is still in ruins, 10 years later, even though Haiti’s bright paintings and innovative sculptures enjoy renown worldwide

Eventually, after several years in some cases, several hundred thousand earthquake refugees left those blue tents and ended up on a treeless plain miles north of the city, where, as Kushner described movingly, they “invested more than $90 million of their own money to build some 20,000 houses.” They named their new refugee city Canaan—the Bible’s promised land.

The reconstruction failure is doubly tragic because an inspiring public health organization in downtown Port-au-Prince shows that another way was possible. GHESKIO was cofounded in 1982 by a Haitian doctor named Jean William (Bill) Pape, a man who surely deserves consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize. Pape returned home to Haiti after studying infectious diseases in the United States to encounter some of the first cases of HIV/AIDS. He got to work immediately. Today, GHESKIO employs more than 400 Haitians—doctors, health workers, and drivers—to regularly deliver life-saving ARV medications to 100,000 people who are living with HIV all over the country. The organization then expanded into other areas, including tuberculosis, cervical cancer, and more, and it also does cutting-edge medical research.

Visiting GHESKIO’s bustling main office and clinic in the Bicentenaire, a particularly poor part of the city, is an inspiration. Dr. Pape is 73, but the organization’s executive director moves like a man half his age. He explains that the ARV drugs have dropped in price, but still cost $250–300 per person a year. “Most Haitians can’t afford even that,” he says. “The United States supplies 90 percent of our needs. Without that help, thousands of people would be dying every month.”

Pape is proud that GHESKIO does thorough audits to prevent corruption. He smiled and jabbed his finger in the air, saying, “I can say that not one pill has been taken.” GHESKIO does all this on an annual budget of only $9.5 million, which is relatively small in the international aid business. A US-based branch, the Haitian Global Health Alliance, welcomes donations. 


The Hill


10 years after the Haiti earthquake and still on the brink of danger

On Jan. 12, 2010, a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. It was one of the world’s most significant natural disasters on record and hit close to the densely populated capital city of Port-au-Prince. Never before had the world seen an earthquake of this magnitude strike an urban setting, and the impact was colossal. 

Two hundred thirty thousand people were killed, including a quarter of the country’s civil servants. A further 300,000 people were injured. In and around the city, buildings collapsed, leaving 1.5 million people homeless. 

I will never forget arriving into Port-au-Prince just after the earthquake struck. The destruction was everywhere. Dead bodies lay on the streets, and people wandered around. It was like a bomb had dropped on the city. 

The world responded with urgency, compassion, and generosity. Billions of dollars were raised, and aid organizations implemented massive relief and recovery operations. While legitimate questions were raised about overall aid effectiveness and efficiency, there is no doubt that many lives were saved, and Haiti was significantly helped back on the road to recovery.

Haitians have extraordinary resilience, honed through struggle, and hardship. It was, after all, the first independent nation of Latin America and the only country in the world established following a successful slave revolt. 

It is this inherent fighting spirit that has enabled people to withstand enormous challenges thrown at them. But resilience is not inexhaustible, nor inevitable, and many more struggled enormously to survive. 

Ten years on from the earthquake, Haiti has regressed. The causes are multiple, but negligence and lack of attention are key drivers of the current crisis, one that is happening in virtual silence. 

We start 2020 with a country that is both highly vulnerable to climatic disaster and facing a massive — and massively underreported — hunger crisis. Data supplied in October by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) revealed that 3.67 million people need urgent food assistance. Inflation is close to 20 percent, and currency depreciation has been crippling for poor Haitian families.

Not enough is being done and, even though Haiti is the region’s most vulnerable to climate change, it remains one of the least well prepared. Prevention is key. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 gave us a glimpse of what might happen, but lessons have not been learned.

Concern’s annual budget is a fraction of what it was in the post-earthquake period, and the total of donor investment is grossly insufficient. Last year, the UN appeal for Haiti was less than one-third funded by international donors making it among the most under-funded humanitarian crises in the world this ticking humanitarian time bomb has gone mostly unnoticed, and the lack of interest, action, and funding is shameful.

In 2010, the world responded to the crisis with speed and extraordinary generosity, but 10 years in this country is in no way adequately prepared for the next one. We can and should do so much more to protect the people of Haiti. 

Dominic MacSorley is the CEO of Concern Worldwide. He was among the first emergency responders to arrive in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. In the months that followed, he oversaw a significant operation to provide emergency supplies, shelter, water, sanitation, infrastructure and protection to tens of thousands of families.


In this Jan. 3, 2020 photo, Rose-Berline Thomas sits in a window to speak with her mother outside at their home in Canaan, a district in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, created for people who lost their homes in the earthquake 10 years ago. Rose-Berline Thomas was 2-years-old when the earthquake collapsed her family's home on top of her, crushing her foot. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)In this Jan. 3, 2020 photo, Rose-Berline Thomas sits in a window to speak with her mother outside at their home in Canaan, a district in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, created for people who lost their homes in the earthquake 10 years ago. Rose-Berline Thomas was 2-years-old when the earthquake collapsed her family's home on top of her, crushing her foot. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

CANAAN, Haiti -- Just before 5 p.m., Marie-Mislen Thomas’ house fell on top of her three children. In the first nightmarish hour after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, the Thomases were able to pull their sons Chilo and Jameson from the rubble. It took them hours more to find the then 2-year-old Rose-Berline.

Her foot was crushed but she survived with help from a Cuban doctor. A French charity moved the Thomases to Canaan, a swiftly growing shantytown on empty land two hours from their destroyed home in the capital. Another non-governmental organization gave Rose-Berline a prosthetic lower leg and crutches.

Then the Thomases and hundreds of thousands more Haitian earthquake survivors were left on their own. On the tenth anniversary of the Haitian quake, the Thomases live in a rotting two-room shack that floods when it rains in Canaan, which has become the largest slum in the Caribbean. Home to more than 300,000 people, Canaan has no running water, electricity or other public services despite repeated promises that NGOs, foreign governments and Haitian officials would help.

Rose-Berline has outgrown her prosthesis and a pair of crutches provided by foreign aid workers. At 12, she runs the Thomas household while her mother works selling housewares in the street. The bone has grown out of her stump, making a new prosthesis impossible to fit, and the Thomases don't have the money to pay for an operation.

For observers, the fate of earthquake victims like Rose-Berline shows outside actors' inability to follow through or make lasting positive change with the billions spent in Haiti after the earthquake, which killed hundreds of thousands and left more than a million homeless. The final death toll remains debated.

"The international community was very efficient during three or four months to provide water, shelter in the form of tents and provisional shelters, provide medicine, food, etc.,'' said Leslie Voltaire, a Haitian urban planner who has worked to improve conditions in Canaan.

Asked about the long-term response, he offered a different evaluation. "'It has been a disaster,'' he said. “All the displaced people are found in Canaan or other slums area. They don’t have real shelter. They have been building by themselves and without proper guidance by the state. If there is another earthquake it will crumble again.”

Voltaire worked for the Haitian government housing agency after the quake and said he proposed a series of measures to improve conditions in Canaan, including road construction and the building of town centers with public services that would reduce inhabitants’ dependence on long commutes to Port-au-Prince.

He said none of Haiti’s recent administrations had taken action. A housing agency spokesman told The Associated Press that he could not comment, and Haitian government representatives, including a spokesman for President Jovenel Moise, did not respond to requests for comment.

As the tenth anniversary of the earthquake approached, many NGOs said they were deeply concerned about the conditions for quake survivors and the Haitian population overall.

The organizations Doctors Without Borders, for example, said efforts to strengthen Haiti’s hospitals, clinics and community medicine had been gravely neglected as global attention diverted from the country.

“Most medical humanitarian actors have left the country and Haiti's medical system is once again on the brink of collapse amid an escalating political and economic crisis," Hassan Issa, the group’s head of mission in Haiti, said in an emailed statement.

Marie-Mislen Thomas, 41, and her husband Sadilor, 48, a mason, took out a loan to pay for school for their five children. They had two more children after the quake and their ages now range from 4 to 14. But the couple used the money for basic needs like food last year as the Haitian economy slumped amid paralyzing political protests.

Her children have spent months out of school, in the streets of Canaan.

“My kids don’t go to school, they’re now playing with kids who are a bad influence. I am hoping that one day I can move my kids from this neighborhood, move them to something better,” Marie-Mislene said.

As the oldest girl in the family, Rose-Berline cooks and cleans while her mother sells tablecloths and other goods nearby. Since her crutches are too small, the girl moves from room to room on her knees.

“Rose-Berline is the mother of the house,” Marie-Mislene said. ‘Rose-Berline does everything in the house. She cooks, cleans, goes to the market to buy food.”

Rose-Berline says her dream is to to become a nurse. “I would love to help people in the future. I wish that my father could find work and help us finish school,'' she said. “’I hope I can do more when I grow up.”

Other residents of Canaan are less hopeful about the future. Jean-Claude Jean, 50, was brought to Canaan by United Nations aid workers and lives in a plywood shack with sheet-metal roof. "They gave me a shelter for 3 years and said that it was only temporary. Now it’s 10 years later,” he said.

He and his wife sell meat and poultry across from foul-smelling latrines, which are overflowing because they aren't regularly emptied. A public school was built by an NGO in Canaan but is closed because there are no teachers to staff it. “'We have been left alone. No one ever said anything, no state presence, or the organization that brought us here,” Jean said

The Pernicious Power of American Promises

By Jacob Kushner

Photographs by Damon Winter

Jan. 11, 2020 (New York Times)

The first time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was limping toward me, slowly, but with the unmistakable elegance of the dancer that she was. Two years had passed since American donors and American media had turned Fabienne into a symbol of recovery from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Well-wishers had promised her everything from a new house and an American visa to her own dance academy. At the time she was still hopeful; none of it, however, would come to pass.

The last time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was sitting idle in her basement apartment in Port-au-Prince, unable to work, unable to dance, still nostalgic about her brief encounter with American generosity. She took out her phone and flipped through photos. “Did you see this one, Jacob?” she laughed, showing me a photo of her posing on a Florida beach. Eleven months later, she was dead.

Fabienne’s body was laid to rest in a rented space in another family’s tomb. Her grave is unmarked.
Before the disaster, Fabienne, a performer at Haiti’s National Theater, had danced onstage with some of the country’s biggest bands and donned extravagant outfits to march in Carnival parades. But the earthquake sent a wall of concrete crashing down on top of Fabienne, crushing her right leg. To save her life, American doctors, flown in from New York, amputated below the knee. Fabienne thought she would never dance again.

Then, a few weeks later, a man from New Hampshire promised her otherwise. The owner of a prosthetics company, he’d traveled to Haiti to help the earthquake’s amputees. He was taken by Fabienne’s sanguine spirit, and told her he would help.  The world was desperate for good news from Haiti. The earthquake had killed somewhere between 46,000 and 316,000 people, most in a matter of minutes, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history. Fabienne was one of countless survivors who were injured, and one of 1.5 million people — almost 15 percent of the population — displaced from their homes.

Americans were moved by Haiti’s pain. A Pew survey found that half of all Americans donated or planned to donate money to help Haiti recover. For its part, the United States government pledged an incredible $4.4 billion in aid money; by comparison, it pledged just $350 million following the Indian Ocean earthquake that had killed 230,000 and displaced 1.7 million six years earlier.

And Americans were moved by Fabienne. After The New York Times published a front-page article featuring her story, doctors and donors began scrambling — even competing — to help. The Times then published a second front-page article featuring Fabienne, cementing her status as the most famous face of Haiti’s earthquake.

Donors brought Fabienne to the United States, where she was fitted with a prosthetic limb. On TV, America watched as she danced again for the first time, spinning and swaying, improbably, on that prosthetic leg. On the anniversary of the earthquake, The Times published another front-page portrait of a smiling Fabienne, her new leg slung triumphantly over her shoulder.

Fabienne was the perfect metaphor for recovery. The earthquake took her leg. But American doctors and donors stepped in, rebuilding her body and her life. Or so it seemed. To my surprise, when I tracked her down in 2012, Fabienne was living in a dingy apartment with her dying mother and her energetic young daughter, Christina. The man from New Hampshire had stopped wiring money to pay for Fabienne’s transportation to physical therapy sessions and to rehearsals at the National Theater. Fabienne was relying on handouts from friends — not Americans, but Haitians — to survive.

The dancer who lost her leg had danced again — then didn’t. Fabienne’s spirit seemed crushed. Promises, Fabienne learned, can be pernicious. “I thank God I didn’t die — I’m alive,” she told me. “But this situation is not good for me. With all the promises people have made, nothing has happened.”

Eventually, the world moved on. New disasters took over the front pages — the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011, the Syrian civil war in 2012 — and journalists found new people’s stories to tell. Both Fabienne and Haiti faded from the news, as disaster victims in far-off places so often do. I moved away, but each time I returned to Haiti, I passed by for a visit. Last month, her basement apartment was locked. The entryway was quiet. When I knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask if Fabienne had gone out, she informed me that Fabienne had died a month earlier, following an epileptic seizure. She’d been having seizures for years; her uncle believed they were the result of brain damage she’d suffered during the earthquake. “All the assistance she got was for her leg,” her uncle told me. “That day, nobody was thinking about the problem inside our minds.”

Fabienne died young — five weeks shy of her 41st birthday. Last month, Christina led me into the room where her mother lived and died. She reached for a bag, printed with a large American flag and the words “Premium Quality U.S. Rice.” The bag once contained “food aid” — rice the United States government gives subsidies to American farmers to grow, then ships to Haiti, where it puts Haitian farmers out of work. Now empty, it was in this bag that Christina kept her mother’s last prosthetic leg.

It wasn’t a leg I recognized. Christina explained that the legs fitted by the Americans had long ago stopped serving Fabienne. They caused her pain, and often fell off when she walked or danced. So, over many months, Fabienne saved what money she could, and eventually bought a new leg of her own. It was on this leg, fitted in Haiti, that Fabienne danced her last dance, on the Sunday before she died, when one of her favorite songs came on the radio.

Had America let Fabienne down? For all the promises that American charities and politicians made to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, it seems we somehow failed to rebuild even a single life — the life, in fact, of the person who received more attention and more promises than anybody else.

“When you promise something to someone, you encourage them,” a Haitian translator who worked as a liaison between Fabienne and her American donors told me. But as time goes by and nothing happens, unfulfilled promises can break someone’s will, even to the point of making them physically sick, he said. “And that’s what happened to Fabienne. It affected her mind, her body, and every part of her.”

For 10 years I’ve investigated the failure of billions of dollars in post-earthquake aid to rebuild and reshape Haiti. I’ve written about a United States-funded seaport that was never built. I’ve written about the misplaced good intentions of American volunteers. I’ve exposed that the United States was deporting Haitian immigrants despite knowing they’d face life-threatening conditions back home. I’ve reported on how America’s government and charities wasted millions of dollars on American contractors instead of spending aid money locally. (Researchers calculated that a mere 2.3 percent of all U.S.A.I.D. money “given” to Haiti went to Haitian companies or firms — most went to American contractors in and around Washington — and that only about 9 percent of funds disbursed in the two years after the earthquake went through Haiti’s government.)

The story of what happened to Haiti is the story of what happened to Fabienne. America made big promises — and didn’t deliver.  What did we as news consumers, as Americans, owe Fabienne? Do we have the right to publish and to gaze at images of black bodies, so as to sympathize with their suffering from afar? To gaze again, with satisfaction, when they reach their highest highs? And if we gaze, as we gazed at Fabienne, do we have the right to later, look away?

What do we owe Haiti? Millions of us sent money to American charities without researching them first or reading their plans, if they had any, for how to rebuild a nation. To give money is easy, and satisfying. To figure out how to use that money to glue together the pieces of a shattered life, let alone a country, is one of the most difficult and complex endeavors anyone could possibly take on.

On my last morning in Haiti, a Haitian journalist friend of mine offered to drive me and some of Fabienne’s relatives to visit her grave. We drove to the church where her funeral was held, then dashed across the busy street to the cemetery. The rest of us stood back as Christina stared in silence at her mother’s tomb. I asked Christina’s family: If all the attention paid to Fabienne had ultimately failed her, were they sure it was a good idea for me to write another article? Yes, they insisted. “Because it could probably help the daughter — the visibility,” her uncle told me. Without Fabienne, the family hasn’t been able to pay Christina’s school fees. Perhaps whatever I publish might “help her to succeed,” he told me. “It’s very important work that you’re doing.”

But 10 years after The Times, MSNBC and other news media elevated Fabienne’s story — a decade after millions of Americans poured promises out of their hearts or cash out of their wallets to help — I don’t think I’m convinced. Perhaps our moral obligation to people like Fabienne is this: If we allow ourselves to gaze at them, let us not then look away. Rather, let us grapple with, and struggle through, the complex work that rebuilding a nation, and rebuilding a life, demands.

The solution is not to promise less. Rather, it’s to see those promises through. That, at least, is what Fabienne’s aunt told me. “They said they were going to buy her a house — nothing.” “They came to this country, and then they left this country.”

Jacob Kushner (@jacobkushner) is an investigative journalist who splits his time between East and Central Africa and the Caribbean. Reporting for this article was supported by grants from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Damon Winter is a staff photographer currently on assignment for Opinion. He received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.  


Haiti Faces Difficult Questions Ten Years After a Devastating Earthquake

By Edwidge Danticat

The New Yorker


This past December, as what would have been my mother’s eighty-fourth birthday approached, I kept dreaming of death. In the most frequent of these dreams, my mother, who died, of ovarian cancer, in October, 2014, in Miami, is telling me to run out of the single-story house where I spent most of my childhood, in Port-au-Prince, before the house falls on top of me and several members of my family.

I knew why I was having these dreams. The anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010—levelling parts of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, and leading to thousands of deaths, including those of several friends and family members—was coming. And sometimes anniversaries hurt. You feel them in inexplicable aches in your body, or in a general unease that you keep trying to shake until you realize, yes, it is that time of year. Again.

This past year, there has been a lot more than usual to worry about. Haitians have been protesting against President Jovenel Moïse since July 6, 2018. They have been demonstrating against fuel hikes, corruption, and other systemic problems, such as high rates of unemployment, spiking inflation, currency devaluation, and extrajudicial killings, some of which have been linked to government officials. Between September and early December, 2019, the country was on an extended lockdown, or peyi lòk. Forty-two protesters were reported to have died during that time, and more than eighty injured. Nearly two million students could not go to school. Health care, already a challenge, became harder to access. Gang violence has intensified. Greater food insecurity looms ahead. The President refuses to resign. Haitian opposition leaders, some belonging to Moïse’s own political party, have vowed to keep protesting, but most parliamentarians’ terms will expire on January 13th, and, since no legislative elections have been held, the President can soon rule by decree.

This is only one snapshot of the Haiti that will commemorate the tenth anniversary of its most catastrophic natural disaster this Sunday. For some Haitians, in addition to navigating the country’s current and chronic problems, the anniversary might make them feel as though they’re still being attacked, both literally and figuratively, by the soil. This is how one older family member who survived the earthquake once described the early, single-digit anniversaries to me. This is how I imagine one younger relative might have felt after losing several toes to part of a collapsed wall in the earthquake, only to nearly die again last year after being shot by another young man who wanted his motorcycle.

Sorrowful anniversaries magnify absence. I think of a story often shared by Marie Guerda Nicolas, a Haitian-American clinical-psychology professor at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, and one of the founders of Rebati Santé Mentale, an organization collaborating with mental-health workers in Haiti. Soon after the earthquake, Nicolas was in the western coastal town of Léogâne, my mother’s birthplace and the epicenter of the quake. Nicolas met a woman who, after searching with other distraught parents through the rubble of her eight-year-old daughter’s school, found one of her daughter’s legs, which she recognized by the style and color of the shoes and socks the girl had been wearing that day. The woman took the leg home, washed it, and laid it on her daughter’s still-intact bed. Eventually, Nicolas persuaded the woman to bury the leg.

I think, too, of a discussion I had with family members in Port-au-Prince when they called to inform me that a loved one’s torso had been found. The decision was made to bury him immediately near the site where he’d died, but the horror of suddenly spotting his favorite shirt, after days of searching for him in the rubble, still haunts his surviving children.

Sorrowful anniversaries also inevitably make us wonder what might have been. What if three hundred and sixteen thousand people—the death count, according to government estimates—had not perished? What might they have contributed to their communities, their country? What if Haiti had actually been “built back better,” as President Bill Clinton, who served in a triple role as United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti, international co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, and one of the two Presidential faces of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, had often promised? What if the $13.5 billion in pledged and donated funds had actually been disbursed and invested in improving the lives of most Haitians, creating genuine paths for a better future? What if more seismic-resistant homes, hospitals, schools, and universities had been built, or rebuilt, to reduce future casualties? What if rural entrepreneurs, women’s organizations, and peasant farmers—who face the brunt of diminishing food production, environmental degradation, deadly hurricanes, and climate change—had been integral players in the reconstruction plans? What if . . . ?

Many of my family members in Haiti often refer to the country’s current political and economic challenges as another earthquake, one with no foreseeable end. I was in a supermarket in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood on the afternoon of January 12, 2010, when news of the earthquake broke. I tried calling friends and family members in Haiti, and then I called my mother, in New York. Between crying and praying, she, too, was trying to reach everyone she knew in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne.

“What will the country be like now?” she kept asking me, something she did each time yet another tragedy had befallen Haiti. “Ten, twenty years from now, what will the country be like?” On this anniversary, like all the others to follow, Haitians must ultimately decide.


National Geographic


Standing in front of the earthquake-ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, Ketly Paul looked at the faded ruins where stained-glass windows and pews once stood. Haiti’s devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake claimed an estimated 316,000 lives, left 1.5 million injured and another 1.5 million homeless when it struck 15 miles southwest of the capital.

But Paul, like many Haitians, thought the flood of humanitarian aid and $13.3 billion pledges from the international community would rebuild the cathedral, secure housing for her after her home collapsed, and make life better in the volatile nation. Instead, ten years later, Haiti remains a long way from recovery, mired in political conflict that has bankrupt businesses, soured the economy, and dampened the enthusiasm of foreign donors who once rushed to help with its reconstruction.

While the rubble and makeshift tent cities that once blanketed Port-au-Prince are gone, some have turned into permanent settlements with no power, no sanitation, no security, for more than 32,000 quake survivors. Two of the country’s most iconic structures—the cathedral and the presidential palace—still have not been rebuilt. And six years after construction began on a new $100 million public hospital, promised by the United States and France, the complex emains an empty shell, the work temporarily halted due to a dispute over money.

Paul, a 47-year-old mother of five, still finds herself living under a tarp just steps away from Notre-Dame. Few permanent houses have been built and the debate over how much of the aid came—and where it went—persists. Instead of the bright future that many envisioned after the 7.0 magnitude quake, Haiti is now undergoing one of its worst economic downturns as widespread popular discontent engulfs the impoverished nation, and Haitians increasingly lose faith in political leaders.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was completely destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. The iconic structure, also known as the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, was built beginning in 1884. In 2014, a transitional cathedral was built next door to host services, while the original remains in ruins.

Before the earthquake, things were looking up in Haiti. The economy was improving, foreign investors were considering investment opportunities and Haitians themselves were feeling hopeful about their future. (See pictures of Haiti on its own terms.)

But political dysfunction worsened after the disaster and the two presidential and legislative elections that would follow. That disfunction eventually impacted the pace of the recovery. Public outcry over corruption resulted in a radical display of discontent that three times in 2019 led to a complete shutdown of the country.

Known as ‘Peyi Lòk' in Creole, the countrywide lockdown consisted of anti-government protesters barricading streets with burning tires, boulders, and anything they could put their hands on to prevent movement in and around the capital, and between cities. In the process, students lost more than 50 days of schooling, hotels shut down and laid off workers, and a humanitarian crisis ensued.

Fueling the growing discontent: an anti-corruption movement spurred by $2 billion in aid Haiti received from a Venezuela oil program that was supposed to be invested in post-quake projects that government auditors said was embezzled. On the tenth anniversary of the quake, Haiti appears to be approaching a deeper crisis. It will be without a functional Parliament or government and its president will be governing by decree.
Thousands of protesters called for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise by marching through Port-au-Prince in October 2019. The country failed to hold elections that month, and they have been postponed indefinitely. Meanwhile Haitians like Paul are struggling to survive.

An economic crisis—prompted by the devaluation of the domestic currency, scarcity of U.S. dollars in the face of declining foreign aid, and the departure of UN peacekeepers after 15 years, as well as mismanagement by the government—has led to fuel shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and deepening poverty. Anti- corruption protesters shuttered schools and businesses in 2019 and blocked major roads for months.

With more than 100,000 buildings including all but one government ministry collapsing in 35 seconds during the quake, Haiti faced a difficult road. But the multiple crises, coupled with what some call Haiti fatigue by donors, have made progress even more difficult. “As a nation, as a state we have failed,” said Leslie Voltaire, an urban planner and architect who was among those involved in the early days of the recovery. The failures are apparent all around Port-au-Prince, where even in the successes there are setbacks.

After the quake a number of new hotels were built and made quake-resistant even as the country’s Parliament parliament failed to approve a national building code. But as last year’s political crisis paralyzed the country for a third time in months, at least one of those hotels, the Best Western, announced its closure while others quietly laid off staff. “There is no president, there is no country, there is no state,” Ketly Paul said.

The earthquake killed leading intellectuals, artists, feminists, and other well-known change makers of Haitian society, whose departure is being felt even today as the country struggles with its present and future. An already unpopular leader, President Jovenel Moïse faces the specter of increased protests as his one-man rule begins on Monday, Jan. 13.

The government’s failure to hold elections in October to re-elect part of the Senate, all of the lower chamber of Parliament, and all locally elected official means that President Moïse will be ruling by decree. New tensions have arisen as Haitians wonder if he will use his one-man rule to usurp the law to his benefit. The lack of a government since March 2019 has already sparked concerns, with some of the country's leading business organizations accusing the president of showing dictatorial tendencies.

The lack of a government has also prevented the flow of aid from the international community to help fend off a humanitarian crisis that the UN warns could affect 4 million Haitians this year. Caught in the middle of the political fury are millions of poor Haitians, like Paul, who live below the poverty line on less than $2.41 a day, according to the World Bank. Mad about the crisis, she is angrier at the president, who is accused of corruption, human rights violations, and mismanaging the economy.

Iris Daniel, Lovely Jean-Pierre, and five-year-old Evanston Daniel stand outside the makeshift shelter where their house once stood. Their home was burned to the ground during a turf war between gangs in the slum of La Saline in Port-au-Prince in 2018. "When the shooting started, my husband stayed behind," 32-year-old Jean-Pierre said. "Here we just have walls of sheet metal. The bullet just went straight through and killed him." The fighting lasted for 14 hours and ended with dozens of people dead and the neighborhood scorched. “The president doesn’t see the population, he doesn’t see anything,” she said. “I’m going to have 10 years here in the streets.”

Her temporary home is a makeshift tent with a cutout piece of unattached wood for a door, a slab of concrete for the floor, and the letters USAID—the abbreviation of the U.S. Agency for International Development—scribbled across the gray tarpaulin. Rampant crime along with the violent protests in the area, Paul said, means she never sleeps at night, always lying awake to keep an eye on her children. “Now what they do is set fire, so I stay awake in case I need to run with the children,” she said.

Since the country-wide lockdown, Paul has seen her sidewalk market go downhill. The proceeds from the sale of Haitian moonshine, cigarettes, and whatever else she could afford weren’t enough to put a decent roof over her head. But it was a living, she said, allowing her to put food in her children’s bellies and pay annual school fees of $51.46 for her youngest child, Ritchielson. “Peyi Lòk destroyed my business,” Paul said. “I no longer have a business to speak of.”

The day of the earthquake, Paul was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral, tending to her commerce in the outdoor market, she said. As the ground began to violently shake, she grabbed three of her children and ran out into the streets. Ritchielson, 7, wasn’t born yet. Today as the quake’s tenth anniversary approaches Paul sees little to commemorate. “After Jan. 12, you could find a little something to eat, now there is nothing,” she said. “Things have gotten worse.”

Haitians are no strangers to crises. Following the end of the nearly 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, the country saw several military coups, including one that sent its first democratically elected president into exile; suffered through U.S. economic blockades; and was devastated by hurricanes, including four storms in 30 days in 2008. The country was thrown on its knees by the 2010 earthquake.

But the current crisis with its high human and economic toll is far worse, many say, than any they have undergone—a perfect storm of armed gangs, economic collapse, unbridled corruption, and popular discontent. Seen from above, the neighborhoods of Jalousie (left), Philippeaux (center) and Desermites (right) blend together in Port-au-Prince. The cramped slums and their residents suffer under the country’s high inflation, corruption, and political uncertainty.

“Everything is falling apart,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert who teaches political science at the University of Virginia. “There is a complete vacuum of authority. There is massive popular discontent against Jovenel and his government, but the opposition doesn’t seem to have the strength to force him out, and the international community, they may dislike Jovenel but they don’t see any alternative.”

Projecting himself as an economic reformer ready to take on Haiti’s economic and political system that has breathed centuries of inequities and instability, Moïse has rejected calls for his resignation and blames opponents and members of the country’s economic elite for his political woes.

He has also denied corruption allegations after he and members of his political family were among those cited in a government auditor’s report that accused present and former public officials of embezzling funds from an oil program meant to support social programs for the poor after the quake. “I am extremely pessimistic about the country’s future,” Fatton, who is of Haitian descent, said. ”The only good thing I can say is that history is full of surprises and unexpected developments." “No one at the time could have predicted the Haitian Revolution; no one predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he added. “In addition, several devastated countries, which were considered corrupt basket cases, managed phenomenal economic and political developments in the midterm and long term; see the examples of South Korea, or more recently Rwanda.”

But Haiti is neither South Korea nor Rwanda. And while many Haitians continue to await a present-day Moses to come lead them through their sea of despair, there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the horizon. The opposition remains divided, unorganized, and unable to topple the embattled president.

“Things look very bleak,” Fatton said. “Poverty is increasing, inequalities are obscene, the economy is devastated, the gourde has lost most of its value, and the political class has little legitimacy. Things are thus falling apart without any clear plan for a better future.” Before the earthquake, Paul said she used to attend mass at the Cathedral. It was a beautiful structure, and even though a temporary $3 million church was built in the back, it’s not the same as the iconic one that overlooks her makeshift tent. “I had hope,” she said, staring at the ruined cathedral. “I thought they were going to rebuild it.”

When she can, Paul says she attends Mass in the transitional structure. Her prayer is always the same. “I ask God to change things, to turn them around,” she said.

JANUARY 10, 2020 07:51 PM 

Ten years after a catastrophic earthquake, Haiti is still the poorest nation in the Americas. It still has a government perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt, and it still suffers chronic political instability. Haiti’s 500-year legacy of slavery, colonialism, military occupation and dictatorship couldn’t be erased in a decade but so much more progress could have been made. The international community, including the United States, promised to help after the earthquake, and it didn’t deliver.  The earthquake that shook Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killed 316,000 people, injured 1.5 million and left more than 10 percent of the nation’s population homeless. An already-weak country was knocked flat on its back.

The 10th anniversary of Haiti’s great disaster is an occasion for deep regret for what could have happened over these years. Haiti’s tragedy brought opportunity. For once, Haiti was a focus of sustained international attention. Governments and aid organizations pledged to devote substantial resources to Haitian recovery, reconstruction and development. The earthquake held a silver-lining promise of setting Haiti on a new path.

 The opportunity has not been lost altogether, but neither has it been fully grasped, as The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports in a series prepared in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Charles describes the streets of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, as no longer choked with rubble. But she also tells of tens of thousands living in shantytowns built of tarps and tin. The post-quake decade has not alleviated Haiti’s deep poverty or reduced its vulnerability to epidemics and disasters. The international community bears a large share of responsibility for the dimmed promise of Haitian recovery. An investigation led by Dr. Paul Farmer, former special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, found that less than two-thirds of the billions of dollars worth of aid pledged to Haiti during the first two years after the earthquake had actually been disbursed.

A lack of follow-through is not the only problem. Farmer’s report, “Lessons From Haiti,” also found that what aid did arrive wasn’t invested well. Other countries and aid organizations have gone to Haiti with their own personnel and contractors – and then they leave without having created sustainable local reconstruction expertise and infrastructure.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which was chaired by former President Bill Clinton and backed by the United States, was supposed to oversee reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, but it was an abject failure. On the anniversary, Clinton is having to answer tough questions about the failed promise of the reconstruction — and he should.

Haiti’s political instability — seven governments and four presidents in 10 years — has complicated and slowed reconstruction work, too. But Haiti will remain unstable until it recovers more fully. The global community, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, must resolve to keep its 2010 commitments, and preserve the hopes for a new beginning that were kindled by the earthquake.

President Donald Trump must also drop his administration’s efforts to end Temporary Protected Status for the 46,000 Haitians currently enrolled, and many of whom arrived in the United States after the earthquake. The conditions that caused Haitians to flee their country persist 10 years later. Many of these people have established lives and families in the United States. Forcing them to return would be cruel and disruptive.

So many promises were made to Haiti. It’s not too late to deliver on them.


Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
JANUARY 11, 2020 06:00 AM 

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake. The disaster claimed 316,000 lives, left 1.5 million homeless and another 1.5 million injured. As the anniversary approaches, the Miami Herald, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will look at questions around aid and rebuilding over the past decade in the series Haiti Earthquake: A Decade of Aftershocks. We invite our readers to share with us how the Haiti earthquake impacted their lives. Your comments may be used in future stories.

One of the first projects approved for Haiti’s reconstruction following the cataclysmic earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, was a sprawling new hospital campus rising out of the ground near downtown Port-au-Prince. A decade later, it has yet to open its doors.

The new Hospital of the State University of Haiti, commonly known as the General Hospital, has been dogged by construction cost overruns, missed deadlines and concerns that Haiti won’t be able to afford operating a massive 534-bed facility that would replace the current general hospital.

Construction of the General Hospital, which would become the country’s largest and replace a transitional structure built after the quake, was approved by the now defunct Interim Haiti Recovery Commission with financing from France, the United States and the Haitian government.

France has committed $40.3 million and the U.S. $25 million.  In July, after five years of construction, the joint venture involving the Spanish firms Elecnor and Teyco, registered in Haiti under the name GISH (Groupement International Santé pour Haiti), shut down the site and terminated its contract, citing $16 million in claims it said Haiti must pay for the company to restart. The complaints range from change orders Haiti demanded to costs the firm says it is incurring because of soaring inflation and the political crisis, which has led to repeated work stoppages amid countrywide lockdowns.

The parties appear to be at a stalemate. “All of the claims are not just,” said Pierre-Michel Joassaint, the newly appointed director of the government’s Technical Execution Unit, which oversees the contract for Haiti’s finance ministry. “We need to arrive at a reasonable price where we can take into account their demands. We cannot agree to demands that we cannot justify. That’s where we are right now.”

Vicente Ramirez Girbes of Elecnor, which is the lead contractor under GISH, did not respond to multiple requests from the Miami Herald seeking comment. In all, the project is facing a $27 million construction shortfall. But the funding gap is not the biggest concern for donors, who are providing Haiti with technical advice in the dispute and believe they will be able to mediate a resolution. The donor nations’ biggest worry is Haiti’s ability to support the new hospital in the long term.

The cost of operating and maintaining the 269,097-square-foot structure, built to resist hurricanes and earthquakes, is estimated at $12 million to $18 million annually, with some experts projecting the cost as high as $25 million. That’s a considerable amount of money in a country where the national annual healthcare budget is about $80 million, and officials struggle just to purchase seven truckloads of water every day to wash the floors of the current facility.

“If we manage to finish this project with all of the stakeholders around the table, we would be happy. But then what’s next?” said Anna Lipchitz, the director of the French Development Agency in Port-au-Prince. “The big question we have right now on the table is how to properly run the new hospital, and that requires a real willingness from the Haitian government.”

The concerns have arisen as Haiti faces political and healthcare crises, the collapse of its economy and an unanswered question: What kind of public health system should the poverty-stricken nation of 11 million be running? “Should it be a hospital that is autonomous or should it be privatized?” said Franck Généus, a Haitian physician who heads the country’s association of private hospitals.

“One thing that needs to come out of the social and political crisis we are living right now is the reform of the health system,” said Généus, noting that the new General Hospital needs to be at the forefront of that change. “The health system should learn a lesson from all of the dissatisfaction, all that we failed to do between 2010 and 2020, and come with another vision, another approach of how to practice medicine, how to support healthcare in this country.”

Weak, inadequate and underfunded, Haiti’s health system was already in critical condition when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, claiming more than 300,000 lives and leaving 1.5 million injured. With the humanitarian relief came a flood of foreign doctors and nurses offering free medical care to many who lost limbs and suffered other injuries. Volunteer groups from as far away as Israel set up tented field hospitals that served thousands of people.

But what was free to the population came at a high cost to many non-government healthcare providers who soon found themselves laying off staff, imposing higher fees or closing.

With the disaster magnifying the weakness of the health system, Haiti’s health ministry launched several initiatives with the support of donor nations, among them Brazil and Canada, to improve access to healthcare. New hospitals were built in the cities of Gonaives and Mirebalais, and in quake-ravaged Jacmel and Port-au-Prince, where Brazil set up three hospitals. Primary healthcare clinics, planned before the disaster, were fast-tracked, and in 2012 a National Ambulance Center to provide quick access to emergency care came online.

But while the ambitious efforts expanded the number of healthcare facilities, they fell short of actually rebuilding the health system, as the government struggled to provide money to operate the new hospitals in Jacmel, Mirebalais and Gonaives.

Today access to quality healthcare remains a significant problem in Haiti. In the past two months the Haitian Community Hospital on Route de Frères in Port-au-Prince stopped receiving patients, and Hospital Bernard Mevs, a private nonprofit in downtown Port-au-Prince, has warned it may be forced to do the same. The Bernard Mevs, which has launched a public campaign for help, blames its financial woes on its own low fees, the growing inability of Haitians to pay for medical care and the state insurer’s failure to pay the medical bills of government employees.

Adding to the strain, Brazil recently told the health ministry that as of the end of 2020 it will hand over to Haiti the three post-quake hospitals it has been operating with the assistance of the United Nations Office for Project Services in Haiti.

The Brazilian government estimates that it has poured about $90 million into Haiti’s health sector since the quake, and had been delaying the handover until the right time. But as often happens in Haiti, there is never a good time to add responsibilities and costs to the government.

“This is one of our concerns now, what’s going to happen to our project when it comes to an end?” Brazil’s ambassador to Haiti, Fernando de Mello Vidal, said. “I am worried.”

A 2017 World Bank study, which called on Haiti to increase its health spending, noted that government health spending has dropped dramatically over the years. It fell from 16.6 percent of the country’s total budget in 2004, which was above the Latin America and Caribbean average, to 4.4 percent in 2016-17.

.As overall spending plummeted, the health ministry’s operational budget has been consumed by personnel costs. According to the study and the government’s own data, 87 percent of the health ministry’s operational budget goes just to salaries. That leaves very little money for operating the island’s network of public hospitals, including the General Hospital.

But Haiti’s dismal health budget is only part of the problem. The rapid devaluation of the domestic currency, the gourde, and the fact that Haiti’s Parliament has failed to adopt a budget for the last three years, has added to the challenge.

As a result, one group of Haitians has been squeezed harder than any other, observers say. “When I Iook at the broader question of the access to healthcare, it is not the government nor the donors who are paying for access to healthcare. It is the middle class here in Haiti,” said Jane Coyne, the former head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti, referring to the high out-of-pocket costs Haitians incur for often inadequate service. “It’s the money from the middle class that’s allowing the hospitals to function.”

In November, as the political and economic crisis strained medical care in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders reopened a trauma hospital that it had closed the year before. Even with tighter restrictions on who would be admitted this time around — gunshots and open fractures, but no head injuries — Coyne said the hospital received a high number of admissions in its first two weeks. Of those, 60 percent were gunshot victims. “There is a real crisis in Haiti today in terms of access to all kinds of healthcare,” she said. “There isn’t enough money to ensure whether any hospital, public or private, continues to function properly. We see dysfunction in the public sector just like we see dysfunction in the private sector. Since few patients are able to pay, all hospitals are struggling. Those accepting all patients are overwhelmed, and those requiring payment upfront are nearly empty.”

There is no official count of how many hospitals have closed or are currently nonfunctional. But in November, the 125-bed Haitian Community Hospital became the latest casualty. As Doctors Without Borders was prepping its trauma hospital to reopen, the board of the foundation that had operated the community hospital for 35 years laid off 150 employees.

“It was a vicious cycle,” said Alain Haspil, president of the Haitian Health and Education Foundation, which founded the hospital nearly four decades ago. “You’re robbing from Peter to pay Paul just to try to keep the hospital open. You just keep falling deeper and deeper in the hole and you can never get back on your feet.”

Haspil said the hospital’s problems started with the earthquake. Up to a year of free healthcare, he said, left the hospital without a revenue stream. And just when the foundation thought it was on a path to recovery with the return of paying patients, the political and economic crisis worsened. Adding to the financial woes, the government insurer didn’t always pay. And then there are those who outright can’t afford medical care.

“Every year we have a day where we give free healthcare. We get 3,000 people who flood our doors. ... We do it on a Sunday. On Monday when we return to normal operations and ask for [$3] for a consultation, you only get 30 people,” Haspil said. “There’s a problem. You see that the people need healthcare but there is no money.”

Haspil said the foundation, which needs about $200,000 a month to run the hospital, has kept a small team to continue to administer an HIV/AIDS program “in the hopes of maybe a miracle.”

Like many, he has visited the area of the new General Hospital, located adjacent to an existing structure that was repaired after the quake and a few blocks away from the razed presidential palace, which hasn’t been rebuilt since it collapsed in the quake. Across the street is the new $6 million Faculte des Sciences, which is part of the State University system and is currently under construction. It’s being funded by the government of Qatar.

Nearby is the $22 million National Campus of Health Sciences, which houses the new medical, nursing, pharmacy and lab technician schools. Built by the U.S. Agency for International Development, it opened in 2017, and can be seen from the second floor of the hospital under construction.

Haspil said the hospital, which consists of 10 solar-powered buildings, is hard to miss. It is a massive empty shell with unfinished floors and long hallways connecting rooms. The floors are connected by stairwells and handicap access ramps. A cafeteria offers both inside and outside views of the capital.

Even in its unfinished state, Haspil said the hospital “is beautiful.” Still, he can’t help but wonder, “Did they think it through? Is there money for this?”

“If you don’t have money to run it, it’s a wasted effort and nothing is going to change,” he said. “Healthcare cannot be free. To give care, the money has to come from somewhere. ... There has to be a structure put in place so that we know where the money is coming from.”

The questions facing the new General Hospital aren’t just about money. There is also the issue of priority and vision, say observers and critics. They emphasize that if you’re going to train the next generation of physicians in Haiti, it has to be done in a facility run with proper staffing. With more than 1,000 employees, the current general hospital has earned a reputation as a cesspool of nepotism and political favors. “People in power, whether it’s a minister or lawmaker, once they want to give someone a job they say, ‘Send them to the General Hospital for me,’ ” said Généus. “You came to have a system that was absolutely ungovernable. The biggest challenge for everyone who has taken the administrator’s job at the hospital has been, how are they going to manage it?” If the new structure will have any chance at succeeding, this practice, Généus and donors say, will have to end.

An official with the USAID said it has assessed Haiti’s financial and human resources capabilities to effectively maintain and run the hospital. Extensive operational studies have been completed, with a variety of post-construction scenarios for management, staffing and operations. “USAID is in discussion with partners and faith-based and nonprofit U.S.-based health providers in Haiti about a potential ongoing role for these groups in operations,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

The French government, which was tasked with bringing its hospital management experience to the project, says it has invested a lot of time thinking about various management scenarios, like whether the hospital should be run by a foundation. Officials are also pondering the question: Does the new General Hospital really need 1,200 employees?

Without a functioning government and health minister who can make lasting decisions, however, it has been difficult to get answers. “Partners will provide assistance to help this hospital open,” Lipchitz, the French development director, said referring to the financing gap. “To fulfill an optimal running of the hospital, the Haitian government has to decide on a strategy both at the hospital level and at the national, health system level.”

Some experts have wondered if it would have been better to iron out the existing hospital’s management before rushing to build a new one. Others say they can’t fault those who said, “Rebuild now.” At the beginning of construction, representatives of the three donors routinely met to discuss financing, equipment and the training of staff, a source who attended the meetings told the Herald. But interest waned as the project experienced a series of lengthy delays, and Haitian health ministry officials stopped showing up for meetings.

That hasn’t stopped the Haitian government, however, from adding to its list of demands, the latest of which is a request for a helipad. During the recent civil unrest, clashes between protesters and police resulted in tear gas being used inside the current hospital, which also suffered from fuel and medicine shortages. But even before the crisis, the hospital’s operation was problematic.

It often suffers from blackouts, poor service and repeated strikes by disgruntled medical residents. During downpours, it is not unusual to see residents wading through water. It’s also not unusual to see patients sleeping on the floors due to a lack of adequate beds. There are no chairs for cancer patients getting chemotherapy.

Dr. Jessy Colimon Adrien, who runs the current facility, said the new hospital can’t open quickly enough. “We need it,” she said. Janvier Prosper, 54, who lives in Port-au-Prince and was passing near the hospital district and stopped to look at the rising structure, said the current facility, which doesn’t even have a functioning morgue, “is not a place where people need to go.”

“If you go in there, you need to wear a mask on your face, given the scent that is spilling out,” he said. “It’s not just us who are awaiting the new hospital. It’s all of Haiti that’s waiting on the hospital. My hope is that the Haitian state would collaborate with the foreigners for them to finish the buildings so that the people could get a break.” The French, Americans and Haitians have all given up on providing a date for when the hospital will open. As part of its dispute, GISH provided a new construction timeline and estimates of costs to complete the project.

One idea that was considered was opening the hospital in phases. But a walk-through of the facility shows that while it may be 85 percent completed, there is still plumbing and electrical work that has to be finished throughout. Even before construction on the new hospital began, there were challenges. Parts of the old building had to be demolished, land cleared and temporary facilities built. All are part of the $100 million price tag that donors now estimate for the project.

While some of the delays were unavoidable, other issues could have been addressed more quickly by the government’s Technical Execution Unit, the USAID official said. He noted that on several occasions the agency had to put pressure on the unit’s directors to issue notice to GISH that it had 48 hours to fix a problem or risk having the contract terminated. “We could not get a clear consensus on why there were certain delays,” the USAID official said.

Joassaint, the director of the Haitian government construction oversight unit, doesn’t dispute that Haiti’s public administration moves slowly and that there were lengthy delays in the project, like the time it took for the government to acquire the equipment for GISH to begin the job or pay invoices. But it’s not all Haiti’s fault, he said. He believes that GISH underestimated the scope of the job and the time it would take to build the hospital. “If we are here with all of these delays, everyone around the table bears a responsibility. It’s not just that this one is responsible and everyone else is as white as snow,“ he said.

Even if the Haitian government were to agree that there were “a few weeks” in which GISH could not work due to the political crisis that often resulted in bullets flying near the job site, Joassaint said, “a bunch” of the delays were because GISH underestimated the number of people it had to hire.

“They can’t say that we’re responsible for all this,” he insisted. “Our engineers told them they were supposed to have 300 to 350 people working. But when they started, they only had 200 people. Part of it is your choice.” One of those choices, he said, has to do with the type of roof GISH chose to use in its design. The roof leaks, Joassaint said.

During a Herald reporter’s tour of the site, workers noted that they’ve had to work under difficult conditions. One day 65 bullet casings were found on the project’s premises. The solar panels and rooftop have been riddled with bullets. Instead of regular hard hats, construction workers and visitors must wear bulletproof hats.

Ten years is not that long to be building a hospital, say Joassaint and Lipchitz, who both note that the actual construction didn’t start until 2014. But Joassaint said he understands the frustration of a population that has spent the past decade waiting for a promise to bear fruit.

“It is hard and it’s still sad that after 10 years we still don’t have a building,” he said. “A hospital is more than just a building. It’s the well-trained personnel, the staff,” said Joassaint. “I understand the building is a symbol, it’s beautiful. But we have to think deeper than that.”

12 January, 2010

On 12 January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude quake struck Haiti, devastating its capital, Port-au-Prince. About 220,000 people were reportedly killed, among them, 102 UN staff who lost their lives when the building housing the stabilization mission there, known as MINUSTAH, collapsed. Some 300,000 people were injured and 1.5 million become homeless during the 35-second-long tremor. 

Marking the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy, Secretary General António Guterres renewed the commitment of the United Nations to helping the country and its people build a better future. 

“On this day, we remember the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their lives and the millions gravely affected by the devastating earthquake that struck their country ten years ago,” Mr. Guterres said in a video statement, also honouring the memory of the UN colleagues lost on that same day. 

“My heart goes out to all those who lost family, friends and loved ones., the Secretary-General Said, adding: “I will never forget the shock and sadness across the United Nations as we became aware of the scale of the tragedy.”   

The UN chief said that over the past decade, Haiti has drawn on the resilience of its people and the support of its many friends to overcome this disaster. 

“With the continued support of the international community, Haiti is striving to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including through strengthening the institutions that are so crucial to the wellbeing and prosperity of its people,” Mr. Guterres said. 

Sombre Commemorations
On Friday, UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, all UN staff have been invited to attend a commemorative ceremony to be held at the site of the Christopher Hotel, which housed the UN peacekeeping mission’s headquarters, and which collapsed during the earthquake.

Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenča will be the senior official from New York representing the UN at this ceremony and other commemorative events organized by the Haitian Government.

Next week, there will be several other events to mark the anniversary.

On Monday, in Tunis, the UN will inaugurate the Hedi Annabi Hall, honouring the memory of the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Hedi Annabi, who died in the collapse of the Christopher Hotel. Mr. Annabi was also a long-time Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in New York.

And in Geneva, on Wednesday, there will be another commemoration at the Palais des Nations, with, among other participants, Haiti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And lastly, on Friday next week, 17 January, the Secretary-General will take part in a ceremony here which will include representatives of the countries who lost [citizens] their lives in the earthquake.


Haiti on Sunday will remember the thousands who died in the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, as grief mixes with anger and bitterness over failed reconstruction efforts and continuing political instability.

Over 35 agonizingly long seconds, a magnitude-7 quake transformed capital city Port-au-Prince and the nearby cities of Gressier, Leogane and Jacmel into dusty ruins, killing more than 200,000 and injuring some 300,000 others. More than a million and a half Haitians were left homeless, leaving island authorities and the international humanitarian community with a colossal challenge in a country lacking either a land registry or building rules. "It's a lost decade, totally lost," Haitian economist Kesner Pharel told AFP. "The capital has not been rebuilt, but our poor governance is not the exclusive responsibility of the local authorities; at the international level we have not seen a mechanism for managing aid that would allow the country to benefit."

The billions of dollars promised by international donors in the weeks after the catastrophe seem to have vanished with little to show for them, fueling the bitterness of survivors who live today exposed to the same dangers as existed before the quake. "Ten years later, we see an even greater concentration of people in the metropolitan area," Pharel said. "If we were to have a quake of the same magnitude, the results would be the same, for there was no follow-up on most of the rebuilt homes."The country was never rebuilt, and we're back to Square One."

The quake destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, as well as administrative buildings and schools, not to mention 60 percent of Haiti's health-care system. A decade later, the rebuilding of the country's main hospital remains incomplete, and non-governmental organizations struggle to make up for the state's many deficiencies.

"After the quake, we saw a big influx of trauma cases because there was an enormous number of injuries. What we see today is that we had to reopen a trauma center but the injuries are not of the same origin -- unfortunately, more than 50 percent of the injured we see now are gunshot victims," said Sandra Lamarque, chief of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

While failing to manage its physical reconstruction, Haiti has been gripped by a severe socio-political crisis that has partly overshadowed efforts at properly mourning the dead.    In the summer of 2018, corruption scandals implicating current President Jovenel Moise and every post-quake government provoked a sharp backlash, mobilizing young protesters -- more than half the country is younger than 30 -- who live with little prospect for employment in a country marked by growing insecurity amid frequent clashes between armed gangs.

Anti-government demonstrations spread to cities across the country, paralyzing daily life from September to December of last year. The state's weaknesses, on display for the world to see after the earthquake, have only grown worse: National Assembly elections due in November were simply not held, meaning the mandate of the lower chamber expires Monday.

With no functioning legislature, President Moise, who is reviled not only by his political opponents but by a large part of the civilian population, will now have the ability to govern by decree.


January 12, 20207:59 AM ET
Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday
Carrie Kahn 2010

On the wind-whipped hills north of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, Berthenid Dasny holds the keys to the gated memorial erected for Haiti's earthquake victims. Thousands of bodies are buried here in a mass grave dug after a magnitude 7 earthquake shook the country on Jan. 12, 2010. "They've forgotten about this place; it should look better than this," Dasny says as she walks past the overgrown grass, rusted metal statues and brittle brush. For the past year, she has been the memorial's groundskeeper, though she has never been paid. "You must remember the humans buried here. They were just like us and should always be honored, not forgotten," she says. Dasny believes some of her own relatives who were never found after the quake are buried in the grave.

The earthquake's main shock lasted almost 30 seconds. A series of aftershocks soon followed. An estimated 220,000 died, though Haiti's official estimates are higher. Some 1.5 million people were displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration. About 300,000 were injured, and large parts of the country were buried under tons of twisted metal and concrete.

Donors from around the world swiftly pledged billions of dollars in aid and made promises to rebuild. But a decade on, Haitians who survived say they feel forgotten, as much of the goodwill and billions have been lost to waste, greed and corruption. Elizabonne Casseus, 50, is trying to keep her family afloat. She lives with 17 relatives in a small shelter in Canaan, a slum north of Port-au-Prince inhabited by displaced earthquake survivors. Today, the sprawling array of concrete homes and wooden shacks is home to more than a quarter of a million people. There is no running water; there are no sewers and few roads.

Elizabonne Casseus built this shelter (left) using surplus USAID tarps she purchased. She prepares a pot of beans for the more than a dozen people who stay in this shelter. Aid, Casseus says, "was good for the people that got it, but not for me." Her flimsy one-room shack is covered with a gray tarp, stamped with logos of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She bought the cover before coming to these windy hills after spending five years in a squalid tent camp near downtown Port-au-Prince. She had hoped the foreign aid would help her repair her home, destroyed in the quake.

Haiti has long been the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, and the earthquake only made things worse. In the first year after the quake, the economy contracted by more than 5 %.

Moved by the grisly images of the death and destruction, nations around the world pledged almost $10 billion to Haiti. In addition, $3 billion more was donated to worldwide charities that sent thousands of volunteers to the island. Promises were made for new roads, schools, government buildings and permanent, earthquake-proof housing. Haiti's long-troubled economy was going to be revitalized.

While millions poured into Haiti in the first two years after the quake, giving the economy a boost, signs were emerging that reconstruction wouldn't live up to those promises. "There were so many opportunities after the earthquake that could have reduced so much poverty," says Kesner Pharel, a Haitian economist. He calls the last 10 years a "lost decade."

By 2012, millions of cubic feet of rubble still filled the streets. More than 500,000 people still lived in squalid tent camps, according to the International Organization for Migration. Canaan is a slum north of Port-au-Prince inhabited by displaced earthquake survivors. The sprawling array of concrete homes and wooden shacks is home to more than a quarter of a million people.

High-profile groups created to help coordinate the flow of aid money stopped operating. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, set up to streamline and provide transparency for major aid projects and co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton, had already disbanded by the fall of 2011, and less than half of the $4.6 billion pledged to projects was spent.

Victims of the 2010 earthquake moved in when the Haitian government opened Canaan (left) for settlement. Lindar Celhomme (right) looks through a hole in his plywood house in the Corail-Cesselesse settlement, one of the first places outside of Port-au-Prince where displaced earthquake survivors pitched their tents.

A 2013 Government Accountability Office investigation found that USAID had underestimated the cost of infrastructure and housing projects, forcing it to substantially reduce the number of homes it originally planned to help build. The GAO also found that most USAID contracts went to non-Haitian companies, leaving local businesses out of any reconstruction boon.

And an NPR investigation five years after the quake found that the American Red Cross, which took in half a billion dollars from U.S. donors, had only built six permanent homes, not the 132,000 it had claimed. The Red Cross disputed NPR's reports and objected to findings of opaque bookkeeping and exorbitant overhead costs.

Economist Pharel says that on top of the botched reconstruction effort, Haiti's constant political turmoil, weak institutions and poor governance squandered international funds and goodwill. The United Nations has struggled in recent years to get donors to fulfill their aid commitments. Last year, it only met 30% of its funding goals to Haiti, according to the U.N.

Empty jugs for water sit in a corner of Berthenid Dasny's home. Outside her door sits a large pile of stone and sand that she has been gradually purchasing in hopes of someday building a new home.
In recent months, though, citizens have been demanding more accountability from their leaders, not only for the earthquake aid but also for billions of dollars provided to Haiti from an aid program sponsored by Venezuela, known as PetroCaribe. Opponents of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse accuse him of embezzling some of the PetroCaribe funds, and they've taken to the streets demanding he resign. Moïse denies all allegations.

This fall, demonstrations turned violent, leaving 50 people dead and more than 100 injured. Schools and businesses were shut down for weeks. Critical food aid, especially outside the capital, couldn't reach much of the population as demonstrators blocked highways and roads. About a million Haitians suffer severe hunger. Human rights advocates say gangs have grown in the midst of the political turmoil.

But many Haitians are no longer waiting for government or aid groups to build them more permanent homes. Casseus, who relocated to the sprawling slum outside Port-au-Prince, buys sand and stone whenever she has a little extra money so that one day, she can build a more permanent structure on the land she bought. She admits it is slow going for her and her husband, a car mechanic. "Sometimes he goes out all day long and comes back with no money," she says.

The earthquake memorial's groundskeeper, also hopes for a better place to live. For now, she has cobbled together a two-room house on the dusty hillside where she lives by the mass grave. It is made of wooden slats and corrugated tin that rattles and roars with every gust of wind.

Remy Magene Dasny, 22, sits with her mother Berthenid Dasny. Remy had to stop attending school, where she is working on an accounting degree, because of safety concerns due to the unrest in Port-au-Prince. Like Casseus, she keeps a large pile of stone and sand outside her door. When she has work or sells one of her goats, she uses the money to buy stones. She breaks the rocks and adds to the piles, getting ever closer to her goal of building a new home.

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