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Six months after the Haiti earthquake, what progress?

Six months after the 7.0 Haiti earthquake caused one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times, the worse-case scenarios have been avoided. Yet tens of thousands still live in camps.

By Alice SperiContributor, Staff writer / July 12, 2010

A man pushes a wheel barrow past earthquake damaged buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 21.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP/File

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Mexico City

At 4:53 p.m., exactly six months ago today, Haiti was ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless, and created what aid groups have called the most complex humanitarian crisis of modern times.

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Six months on, there are efforts to hail. As the international aid organization Oxfam points out, for example, the massive scale of aid response has helped prevent what, in the early days, seemed like a probable worse-case scenario for Haiti: widespread riots for water or housing. Neither has there been, to date, a major outbreak of water-borne disease.

But for far too many Haitians, life has changed little since the moments after the temblor, with many still living in precarious make-shift camps, living day by day, with few prospects for work, and fearing a new disaster as the hurricane season gets underway.

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In the Champs de Mars camp that sprung up spontaneously in front of the National Palace right after the quake, life looks less “temporary” by the day. Very few people there seemed to notice that today marks six months since the earthquake, and that, across the street, President René Préval and former US President Bill Clinton were commemorating the solemn anniversary.

“Nothing has changed in six months. There are still no jobs and no solid shelter,” says Gilbert Gregory, a father of three who was sitting under a white plastic tarp in Champs de Mars. “By now people are used to living in the camps but it’s because they have no choice, not because it’s a good situation. The government didn’t take any responsibility, all this aid came in, but nothing happened with it. It’s difficult to swallow.”

4.3 million received food aid

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report to mark six months of relief efforts, including a humanitarian response that provided emergency shelter for 1.5 million survivors.

To date, the UN notes, some 4.3 million people have received food and 1.1 million have received a daily supply of safe drinking water. (According to Oxfam water and sanitation experts, metropolitan Port-au-Prince today has more drinking water and toilets than before the earthquake.) Thousands have also received medical assistance, including 4,000 victims who needed amputations.

These are big feats considering that the government, already weak before January 12, was as devastated by the earthquake as the country it leads.

Seventeen percent of the Haitian government workforce was killed, while all ministry buildings were destroyed except for one, write Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Mr. Clinton, co-chairs of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, in a New York Times op-ed. The crumbled National Palace has long been a symbol of the hard road ahead for Haiti.

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