Haiti recovery moves slowly two years after quake

Workers clean up a camp which housed people displaced by the January 12, 2010 earthquake for almost two years, in Port-au-Prince January 10, 2012. (CNS/Reuters)

Today marks two years since a powerful earthquake rocked the poor nation of Haiti. More than 316,000 people died; an estimated 500,000 people — a third of the original 1.5 million people left homeless — remain in tattered shelters in hundreds of settlements in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince.

While a sizable amount of rubble from collapsed buildings has been removed, the capital still bears signs of the destruction with structures askew and little reconstruction in place. The collapsed National Palace, which housed the offices of the president, still sits silently across from Champs de Mars Park, where 20,000 people remain camped. The scene serves as a stark reminder of the perilous struggle Haiti faces.

Aid workers and other observers find any progress distressingly slow. About $2.4 billion of the $4.5 billion pledged by the world’s governments meeting in New York two months after the quake has been received, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti reported. Even less actually has been spent.

Only four of the 10 largest construction projects -– from a $200 million wastewater treatment plant to a $224 million industrial park that is expected to add 65,000 garment worker jobs –- have broken ground. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission coordinating the distribution of funds from overseas donors has an uncertain future after its 18-month mandate ended in October because opposition Haitian lawmakers failed to act to renew the mandate for another year. Without the commission, work on future projects was halted.

Since the earthquake Haiti has encountered numerous challenges as it tries to recover. A tumultuous political battle in late 2010 and 2011 delayed the installation of a new president. When Michel Martelly finally took office in May, he was unable to move forward on his agenda for months until the Haitian Parliament approved his choice — the third — for prime minister.

In the mean time, cholera spread to every corner of the country, leading aid workers to shift gears during periodic spikes of the disease from earthquake recovery to emergency health care. In the 15 months since the disease erupted, more than 522,000 people have contracted the disease leading to more than 7,000 deaths, statistics from the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population show.

The optimistic promise to “build back Haiti better” seems far from assured.

But Prime Minister Garry Conille remains optimistic. On Monday he told Parliament that 2012 would be a “year of construction” as he announced plans to enroll 1 million children in school, improve health care and plant trees to reverse erosion caused by deforestation.

Private programs encompassing small rebuilding efforts have moved forward, even if somewhat slowly. One, the Program for the Reconstruction of the Church in Haiti, or PROCHE, which means “close by” in French, is administering $33 million contributed by American Catholics designated for reconstruction. The effort was crafted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services in cooperation with the Haitian Catholic Church to help rebuild the 70 parishes destroyed in the quake. The first projects are under way.

CRS also has coordinated the rebuilding of St. Francis de Sales Hospital in the center of Port-au-Prince. A new 200-bed hospital is under construction at the site where 70 people died.

Certainly, rebuilding -– or even building for the first time –- requires a strong and lasting commitment from the world. Will the world -– and more importantly, Haiti –- have the patience to see it through?

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