Saturday, July 10, 2010

Six months since the Haiti earthquake

This week marks six months since the Haiti earthquake. Some commerce has returned to the country as the small shops and markets are selling goods again. But most of the earthquake's survivors still live in the tent camps. The world has seemed to move on from Haiti but that means the Haitians are unable to move on from the earthquake.

The Guardian has a great multimedia report on Haiti six months removed from the earthquake. From the introduction of this report, writer Peter Beaumont gives us this summary of what one might see in Haiti.

Six months after Haiti's earthquake, the smell of death has gone. For a while it was on every street corner, a powerful reminder of the estimated 222,570 Haitians who perished. The dozens of aftershocks have also slowly subsided over the months, in frequency and intensity. These days a kind of ordinary life is attempting to reassert itself alongside the ruins where people still dig for bodies or try to shift the mountains of debris. How many of the dead are still under the rubble is unclear. But even now the bodies, as dried out as mummies, are being extracted in ones and twos, attracting small crowds when they are found.

In Port-au-Prince women have returned to their old pitches to sell vegetables and jeans, chickens and car-phone chargers. Near the city centre, the yellow tiled floor of a demolished church has become a football pitch for the local boys. In the ruins of the capital's Catholic cathedral services now take place in the grounds.

Most of the 13,000 US troops who were dispatched to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the disaster have gone, their mission ended on 1 June. The paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne, who helped keep order and guard food distributions, have returned to North Carolina. The hospital ships that provided medical treatment to thousands have gone back to their home ports. A few hundred soldiers remain involved in reconstruction projects or with helping to keep the docks that are Haiti's lifeline running.

The scores of aid agencies that were either based here before, or rushed to the scene of the catastrophe, are now in transition from emergency relief to more long-term projects supporting the population in everything from food to sanitation. There are big agencies like the UN and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as church groups and tiny one-man bands. Cubans, Venezuelans and Israelis. Volunteers from Boston, London and Sydney. In the immediate aftermath the ranks of the International Medical Corps (IMC) were swollen by hundreds of volunteer nurses and doctors from across America, who came to work two-week long shifts to help Haiti's medical services cope with an estimated 300,000 injured. Now the IMC is scaling back its emergency effort to concentrate on the primary healthcare support it provided to Haiti's clinics before the earthquake occurred.

The camps for the 1.5 million who were displaced from 200,000 homes damaged by the disaster, have also been transformed. For most the nightmare of sleeping on the street is over. The simple shelters made from branches and bed-sheets have developed over the months into structures of scavenged wood that have filled up with plastic chairs and mattresses. Roads, alleys, whole neighbourhoods have been created. The new shanties occupy public spaces such as the Champ de Mars park in the centre of Port-au-Prince, close to the badly damaged Presidential Palace. They crowd in around the Neg Mawon, Albert Mangones's statue of the idealised slave-rebel of the liberation struggle. These new communities have proper latrines and market stalls at their fringes and, in the Champ de Mars, even a giant screen provided by the government on which to watch the World Cup. At night, under the lights, the residents listen to local music – racine and kompa – or American hip-hop, drink rum and play noisy games of dominoes. Some watch television inside their shelters.

My first visit to Port-au-Prince was a month after the earthquake, the first of three journeys made to follow the lives of ordinary people in the aftermath of disaster. On 12 January this year, at seven minutes to five in the afternoon, a new reality was carved out in the Americas' poorest nation. Even before the earthquake, three-quarters of this country lived on $2 a day or less. Unemployment and chronic underemployment stood at almost 70%. Haiti's economy was already in reverse; its growth falling in real terms from 3.4% in 2007 to minus 0.5% in the year before the catastrophe. Haiti had no state-supported healthcare: no food security other than that provided by international aid agencies. If the country was at zero on 11 January, it is at less-than-zero now.

1 comment:

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