I still remember that day vividly. I was in a rural community in Mexico, constructing a computer center with Engineers Without Borders. After two long years of assessments and design, January 12, 2010 was the day the remote community of San Miguel got computers and the internet. As I hit the enter button on that keyboard, and the Google homepage flashed, I had realized one of the greatest moments of my life. This joy was short-lived, and faded the moment I clicked on News. I felt hopeless then, and since then; until I got the opportunity to go to Haiti later that year. Haiti was a mess, a country in shambles. The earthquake had demolished much, but not the Haitian spirit. Haiti’s is a story of hope, and to this day when I feel hopeless, I think about her, and about the courage of the people who live there.
Three years after the apocalyptic January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed over 217,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, Haiti struggles, and Haiti perseveres. While there is much to lament about – the earthquake, the cholera outbreak, the failed reconstruction projects, numerous hurricanes, etc. – the story of Haiti, is one of survival and hope. Amidst the rubble of the earthquake, we have not seen the fall of Haiti, but the rise of a passionate nation. Today, let’s celebrate her third birthday.
It feels like the dust has barely settled after the earthquake – over 350,000 Haitians still live in squalid tent camps, with the risk of cholera and over 70% of the population unemployed. The international reconstruction effort has been slow, with political paralysis, a trickle of aid and the onslaught of cholera (which was introduced by UN peacekeeping forces). This however, has done little to deter the Haitian from charting their own path to recovery.
Today there are children wearing pressed white shirts and plaid uniforms on their way home from school. Today there is a new house being build, juxtaposed against the rubble of a bygone past. New schools, new businesses all Haitian run. Haiti is beyond saturated by international nonprofits. Billions of dollars of aid money have been flown in. Thousands of volunteer-hours have gone into development projects. While we argue about the effectiveness of aid, let’s take a step back and learn from the dogged determination of the Haitian who maintains hope despite living in seemingly the most hopeless of places.
There are many success stories, many-a-boasting aid worker proud of their organization’s achievement. However, only those that involve the Haitian population in all aspects of the reconstruction initiative, can claim true success. I wont deter anyone from donating to Haiti, or volunteering their time there. I implore everyone to empower the Haitian population, and not create an environment of dependency. With thousands dead, and millions without a home, our band-aid solutions seemed appropriate – tents, blankets, peacekeeping forces, shipment of used clothes, etc. Three years later, let’s evaluate ourselves and ask some difficult questions. Where do we want to be in a year, or three years? More importantly, where does the Haitian people want to be then?
The math after three years
Let’s change the status quo and let the following numbers guide us.
- Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300
- Number of people killed by cholera epidemic caused by U.N. troops since October 19, 2010: over 7,912
- Percent of worldwide cholera cases that were in Haiti in those years: 57
- Days Since Cholera Was Introduced in Haiti Without an Apology From the U.N.: 813
- Percent of the population that lacks access to “improved” drinking water: 42
- Number of people displaced from their homes by the earthquake: 1.5 million
- Number of people still in displaced persons camps today: 358,000
- Percent that have left camps due to relocation programs by the Haitian government and international agencies: 25
- Share of camp residents facing a constant threat of forced eviction: 1 in 5
- Number of transitional shelters built by aid agencies since the earthquake: 110,964
- Funding needed for U.N./CDC/Haitian government 10-year cholera eradication plan:$2.2 billion
- Percent of $2.2 billion which the U.N. pledged to provide: 1
- Number of dollars, out of every $100 spent in humanitarian relief, that went to the Haitian government: 1
- Value of all contracts awarded by USAID since the earthquake: $485.5 million
- Percent of contracts that has gone to local Haitian firms: 1.2 [v]
- Percent of contracts that has gone to firms inside the beltway (DC, Maryland, Virginia): 67.6
- Percent of transitional shelters that went to camp residents: 23
- Number of new houses constructed since the earthquake: 5,911
- Actual percent growth of the Haitian economy (GDP) in 2012: 2.5