After seven years there’s much to be hopeful about in Haiti, and still much work to do.
Seven years ago today, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. Its epicenter was not far from the Port-au-Prince metro area, home to one of every four Haitians. The temblor, called Goudou Goudou in Haitian Kreyòl (after the sound of the shaking earth), lasted well under a minute, but killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 1.5 million of the country’s population of 10 million. It affected virtually everyone, as some 600,000 people left the earthquake zone to stay with family or friends all over Haiti. Some 300,000 buildings collapsed, including the presidential palace, most government ministries, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the famed film school in Jacmel, the UN mission’s headquarters, the World Bank’s office, several major hospitals, and a huge number of homes. Both the international airport and the main seaport suffered serious damage. During the next two weeks, Haiti experienced 52 major aftershocks and at least one tsunami.
Today, most of the rubble is gone. New hotels catering to international visitors have opened their doors near the renovated airport, as well as in the upscale suburb of Pétionville. Jacmel’s Ciné Institute is back up and running, and designer Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation has helped create a new center in Port-au-Prince supporting Haiti’s artisan community.
But the effects of the earthquake are still very much in evidence. Over 55,000 displaced Haitians still live in tents and other temporary shelters as a result of the temblor.
And quite a few additional shocks have pummeled Haiti since the earthquake. These include a cholera outbreak that has killed 10,000 people, three major hurricanes, and the worst drought in recent memory due to El Niño. Climate change is very likely worsening vulnerability to natural hazards.
Matthew, the most recent hurricane, wrought havoc this past October. It killed hundreds, nearly wiped out agricultural production in the crucial farming areas of southern Haiti, and has left 800,000 people in a state of extreme food insecurity. There is a 38 percent shortfall in funding the UN’s humanitarian flash appeal.
…So is the picture completely gloomy? No.
A major bright spot is that the Haitian government’s disaster management system has taken the lead in responding to Matthew, with support from UN agencies, aid donors, and international nongovernmental organizations. That contrasts sharply with the multi-billion dollar earthquake relief effort, which largely bypassed the Haitian government and Haitian civil society organizations. Also, the country’s emphasis in disaster management is not exclusively on reactive response. Oxfam, for example, has worked closely with local government committees and citizen volunteer groups to enhance their capacity to prepare for and prevent emergencies.