Haiti – One Year On, Still in Ruin

By Jesse Dykstra 12/01/2011


 Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On 12 January, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck one of the world’s poorest nations, killing as many as 230,000 people, and leaving nearly 2 million homeless


The 2010 Haitia earthquake was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. One year on from the earthquake that devastated Port au Prince, at least 800,000 people remain homeless, living in temporary tent encampments. Prior to the earthquake the majority of Haitians earned less than  $2 US per day. Today, the majority of the population of Port au Prince remains jobless. Many have moved away from the city in search of work and family support  (as many as 600,000 by some estimates).

Many homes in Port au Prince were constructed with poor or non-existant building standards. Most damaged or destroyed property was not insured, and with a heavy reliance on international aid money, the reconstruction effort hasn’t even really begun. International charity Oxfam estimates that less than 5% of the 20 million cubic metres of post-earthquake rubble has been removed. Only a fraction of the nearly 10 billion $US pledged for humanitarian aid has been utilized so far, and much of that has been absorbed by basic needs such as water, food, medical aid, and temporary shelter. The Haitian government opted to use a portion of the 2.1 billion $US aid money designated for 2010 to prepare the country for the hurrican season, so there was little money left for rebuilding efforts. Medical care is commonly based out of temporary facilities, with most hospitals in need of repair. Even iconic landmarks such as the Roman Catholic cathedral and the presidential palace remain in ruin.

Rebuilding and recovery promises to be a long and painful process for Haiti. Many people now living in tent camps are at risk from disease (a growing cholera epidemic has already killed over 1300 people), and vulnerable to other natural hazards such as tropical storm systems, flooding and wind. Corruption, indecision, and squabbling amongst the many levels of government and humanitarian aid organizations threaten to stagnate the recovery process even further.

In the words of Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, who runs a 55,000 person tent encampment near Port au Prince,

“We cannot let the sense of optimism… that Haiti can recover and transform into a self-sustaining nation fade out of impatience, frustration or complacency.”  Sean Penn

There is hope for Haiti. Hopefully 2011 will see a major rebuilding effort, as international aid money is funneled into infrastructure reconstruction and improvement. Let us hope that earthquake-resilient building codes, such as those pioneered in New Zealand, will guide the massive rebuilding effort in Haiti, and ultimately improve the resiliency of communties to future natural disasters. Hopefully the influx of international aid money will kickstart a robust economy as reconstruction commences in earnest. Let us hope that we can look back in a decade, and say that this disaster represented a turning point for Haiti.


Here’s a link to a pictorial review of the year following the earthquake, from guardian.co.uk.