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REFLECTIONS On Haiti, The Two Year Anniversary

There is a recent article in The Denver Post by Trenton Daniel entitled "Haiti still on shaky ground two years after devastating quake". While I appreciate The Post's continued reporting on the Haiti tragedy, I think it's important to provide some balanced perspective.

This Thursday, the 12th, is the 2-year anniversary of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people in Haiti. There are bound to be numerous media stories which, like Mr. Daniel's piece, lament the lack of progress in reconstruction. However, it is critically important in sustaining the efforts to rebuild the country that we not lose sight of what has, in fact, been accomplished on the ground.

Here are some of the undisputed facts:
· The tent cities: Yes, it is absolutely shameful that over 500,000 people remain in squalid conditions in makeshift tents and  temporary structures that have been rife with disease, crime, and an absence of civilized sanitation. However, we need to keep in mind that there were once 1.6 million people suffering in the tent cities. This represents a reduction of approximately 70 %.   It is too many, and the suffering is unacceptable – no question – but, the magnitude is far less than it was.

(Tent homestead, mid-year, 2011)

·  Rubble: Yes, it is unacceptable that many of Haiti's roads and other critical infrastructure remain in disrepair. However, the volume of rubble that once buried the city was enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome five times.  Today, the main streets of the capitol, Port-au-Prince, are functioning and mostly cleared. Many tons of rubble have been removed, much of it recycled into building materials.  The national highways have been improved and expanded, including key corridors from the capitol out to the border with the Dominican Republic and to the major northern port city of Cap Haitien.

The following four photos show one small example of huge efforts to rebuild.   In the community of Delmas, the Delmas School was crushed during the earthquake… in two years, this vital education center (children by day, adult nurses by night) has been rebuilt and is currently conducting classes again.  A painstaking process, indeed, for this community.  35 nurses and 1 doctor were buried and died on this site, January, 2010.

(Delmas School property, before earthquake of 1-2010)

(Delmas School property, after earthquake of 1-2010)

Delmas School property, current day, 2012)


· Foreign investment/jobs: Clearly, what most Haitians want and need more than anything else is employment, and the culture of NGO handouts is broken and unsustainable.  However, leaps forward are happening right now, and more are around the corner.  Denis O'Brien and his corporation, Digicel, have rebuilt more than 50 schools since the quake, with dozens more planned.  Carnival Cruise Lines ships now dock at a modern port in Cap Haitien, and the ships have offloaded tons of supplies which are reaching the people who need them.  A promised Korean factory in a new industrial park projects 20,000 jobs. A $45 million modern Marriott hotel boasting 173 rooms with is planned for downtown Port-au-Prince.

·  Medical care: It is a disgrace that Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with shocking rates of infant mortality and diseases like cholera and tuberculosis still rampant.  But, a new, state of the art hospital in Mirabelais  is nearing completion, thanks to the heroic efforts of Partners in Health, in cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Health.  This huge complex will revolutionize both the delivery of medical care to the region, as well as the education of Haitian nurses and doctors for generations to come.    

In sum, it is all too easy to dismiss what is going on in Haiti as a disaster beyond repair. Perhaps it is easy for Westerners to wash our hands of further involvement by embracing the facile notion that the situation is unredeemable due to corruption and bureaucracy. There is no doubt that those of us who care deeply about the people of Haiti know that so, so much needs to be done. There are billions of dollars in international aid, in particular, which has still not materialized (including, the 1.05 billion from the U.S. which has yet to be appropriated by Congress, by the way).    And, to put things in perspective, there are still areas of New Orleans here in our own (developed) country which remain in disrepair, well over 6 years since Hurricane Katrina.

How ever long we have yet to go, let us not forget the good things that are happening on the ground in Haiti, thanks to the resilience and creativity of the Haitian people and the key partnerships with the international community.

Rich Harris, President
The Road to Hope of Haiti
Facebook group: The Road To Hope
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