Eight months after Haiti earthquake, a nation hangs on

Those displaced by the Haiti earthquake continue to live in overcrowded camps, well into a hurricane season that regularly brings heavy rains.

Arnulfo Franco/AP/File
In this photo taken Aug. 25, men remove rubble from a building destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. By some estimates, only 2 percent of the 250 million cubic meters of debris in Port-au-Prince has been cleared.

Almost eight months after a devastating earthquake killed up to 300,000 and left some 1.5 million Haitians homeless, recovery has been slow. Equipment to remove some of the 20 million cubic meters of rubble that for months have lined the capital’s streets has finally arrived. The displaced continue to live in overcrowded camps, well into a hurricane season that has caused no major damage but regularly brings heavy rains.

“There is a real threat that temporary camps will turn into permanent slums,” says Julie Schindall, a spokesperson for Oxfam, one of 800 NGOs operating here. “The government has a responsibility to implement a resettlement plan and they have to do it now."

In August, at the second meeting of the country’s Interim Reconstruction Commission, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive – who co-leads reconstruction efforts with former US President Bill Clinton – announced $1.6 billion worth of projects that are supposed to jumpstart the country’s ravaged economy, including investments in education and job creation outside the capital.

Some $9.9 billion was pledged to the country’s reconstruction, but few donors have lived up to their promise.

“A lot was committed, not so much was given,” Mr. Bellerive told reporters at the meeting. “I’m not promising anything, I’m saying we are trying. It will take a lot of work."

Lifting Haiti out of long-standing poverty and unemployment that the Jan. 12 earthquake merely worsened will also take credible leadership that few see in the current government. “Because you have money it doesn’t mean you’ll do a good work,” said Ms. Schindall of Oxfam.

Frustration has been on the rise in Port-au-Prince. Demonstrations are frequent and episodes of violence are increasing.

The upcoming presidential election has brought some hope of change, but Haitians remain largely disillusioned with their government and the foreign NGOs here.

“We don’t know how long we are going to be here,” says Fara Touissant, a 28-year-old mother of three standing in a nightgown outside the shack she shares with her family across from Haiti’s collapsed presidential palace. “They don’t really care for us.”

This is an update on a previous Monitor story.

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