When the poorest country on earth is devastated by the worst earthquake in history, it is natural to wish for a miracle of rebirth. But, miracles are hard to come by in Haiti, which has only known economic and political turmoil. The Haitian people have long resigned themselves to a life of pain and suffering, but that does not mean they are undeserving of something better. On Jan. 12, 2010, when the earthquake killed 250,000 Haitians and rendered 1.6 million homeless, one of the largest humanitarian efforts was launched, with the United States in the lead.
It is said that hope conquers all, but not in Haiti. A year later, lives are still shattered. Hundreds of displaced families live perilously in a single file of flimsy shanties planted along the median strip of a heavily congested coastal road in the capital Port-Au-Prince, the New York Times reported not too long ago. Vehicles rumble by day and night, kicking up dust and belching exhaust. Residents try to protect themselves by positioning tires as bumpers in front of their shacks, but cars still hit, injure and sometimes kill them. Rarely does anyone stop to offer help.
Thousands of others live under torn or frayed tents and tarpaulins, according to a story in the Times marking the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. “Buildings remain pancaked, keeled over, smashed — just as they were after the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010,” according to the paper.
This lack of progress worries former President Bill Clinton, co-chairman of the international commission overseeing the $5.3 billion in promised reconstruction aid from donor nations around the world, but he remains firm in his determination to create a functioning, stable society. That means helping to establish a centralized government that’s honest and effective and an economy that works.
President Barack Obama, who has also made the rebirth of Haiti a priority, offered a positive but cautionary assessment of what has taken place in the last 12 months.
“Over the past year, countless lives have been saved and many Haitians affected by the earthquake now have better access to food, water and health care than they did before the disaster,” Obama said in a statement this week. “Still, too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians progress has not come fast enough.”
The president said Haiti must lead the way with a strong vision for its future, but he also said the international community must fulfill the pledges it made to ensure a strong and sustained long-term effort.
Haiti needs everything, from honest governance to an efficient bureaucracy to international organizations that will provide good housing, clean water, sanitation and health care, especially for the young and the old.
A year has passed since the world was witness to one of the worst disasters in history. The death and destruction was breathtaking. The outpouring of support from around the world was unprecedented.
But the pain and suffering continues and many Haitians are losing hope.
There must be substantial progress in the rebuilding effort this year.