Haiti: six months on

Written By: - Date published: 10:11 am, July 18th, 2010 - 1 comment
Categories: International - Tags: , ,

The 24 hour news cycle. The 20 second slot. The soundbite. The pithy headline. We have short attention spans. Today’s tragedy is yesterday’s dim memory. I am usually as guilty as most, and this article in The Guardian was a sharp reminder:

Haiti earthquake: six months on

When the earthquake struck on 12 January, the poorest country in the Americas was devastated. The world rallied, but not for long much of the promised aid has not materialised. And while their government falters, many of the 1.5 million displaced Haitians are still sleeping rough

Watch a special multimedia report by Peter Beaumont and Mustafa Khalili on what life is like for survivors of the earthquake now that the world’s attention has moved on

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. …

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. …

By my third visit in June senior aid workers are complaining that there is still no plan for the country’s reconstruction. It is a complaint endorsed by the US senate, which last month received a scathing report written by the staff of Senator John Kerry on the rebuilding of the country, describing it as “stalled” by a lack of leadership, disagreements among donors and disorganisation. The government was bad before, one senior UN official tells me wearily now it has all but disappeared.

But, faced with the challenges of rebuilding, it is not only the government of René Préval, elected in 2006 and once popular with the poor, that has faltered. Pledges of billions of dollars in aid from the international community remain unfulfilled, with only a fraction of the more than $5bn promised so far delivered. The delivery of crucial building materials has also been delayed. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, set up under the chairmanship of former US president Bill Clinton, met last month for the first time. …

In the immediate aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake, his [graffiti artist “Jerry” Rosembert] response painted on walls across the capital became the emblem for the nation. A map of Haiti, imagined as a crying face with a pair of praying hands, it demanded: “Please Help Us.” Six months later Jerry’s new mural speaks of a different anguish: an angry frustration widespread among Haitians that, despite the huge emergency response in the wake of the catastrophe and the promises of billions, they have been abandoned. A desperate place before the earthquake struck, despite the brief moment of international attention it has become more desperate still. The smell of death may be gone but Haiti is still dying.

I didn’t catch any of it at the time, but there was some coverage of this grim anniversary in the NZ media (RNZ, Scoop, The Herald, TVNZ). It would certainly be nice to see the same sort of focus on our aid efforts as a country. A couple of weeks ago Newsroom carried this headline: “Aid Agencies Cry ‘Enough’ – Aid agencies are imploring the Government to talk to them before programmes fall over and vulnerable people suffer because of the uncertainty created by an overhaul of overseas aid delivery”. I’ve been waiting for further coverage to do a post on this issue – so far, nothing…

One comment on “Haiti: six months on”

  1. comedy 1

    Depressing both the post and the fact people are more interested in arguing the merits of pretty minor stuff in NZ rather then taking an interest in what’s happening to the people of Haiti.

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