Four long and painful years after a cataclysmic earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince and much of Haiti, the country is emerging from the depths of the disaster. Rebuilding is replacing recovery. A measure of order is replacing the chaos of the early years.
Most of the rubble is gone. Where once the capital’s streets and surrounding areas housed 1,500 makeshift camps for about 1.5 million refugees, the numbers were down considerably near year’s end: 175,000 remained in 306 camps. Ten new hurricane shelters are being built, the country boasts 180-plus miles of newly paved roads, there are 46 new health centers and seven new hospitals. And so on.
This is progress, but hold the applause. The numbers don’t tell the full story.
Too much time has been wasted in recriminations among the government of President Michel Martelly, donor nations and the international aid groups that receive much of the money directly. Political disarray has blocked elections. Tens of thousands were forcibly evicted from camps, with no safe place to go, and many more face the same prospect in 2014.
No new government ministries have been built to replace the ones that were destroyed, although seven are under construction. Billions of dollars in promised aid remain undisbursed, and international investment has been slow to arrive because of a lack of confidence in the government. Nearly 700,000 suspected cases of cholera have been detected, some 8,500 victims have died and the epidemic still rages.
Progress has come in fits and starts. The government is not all-powerful. Mr. Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe cannot wave a magic wand and resolve all the issues blocking the pace of recovery, but they are not helpless, either.
If Mr. Lamothe wants the international community to “trust us, give us the benefit of the doubt” — as he told Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles in an interview — when it comes to receiving and disbursing aid funds, he must work harder to gain that trust by improving the transparency of his government.
Mr. Martelly, for his part, must strive harder to work with Haiti’s divided and often selfish political parties to put together overdue legislative elections.
The failure to hold elections has done much to tarnish Haiti’s political class and undermine confidence in the government. The voting has been delayed for more than two years, which is simply unacceptable.
A lot has been done to put children back in school, for which the government deserves credit, but education and child welfare must remain priorities. Last year, according to U.N. figures, 6.5 percent of children under age 5 suffered from acute malnutrition — an increase from 5.1 percent in 2010.
The United States has led the way among donor nations to help the country recover, but it has failed in one area where it can, and must, do better. As of Nov. 1, nearly 110,000 Haitians had been approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for family-based visas to the United States, but they remain on years-long wait lists in Haiti.
The administration has promised Haitian-American leaders in Miami and elsewhere that it would speed up family reunifications, but there’s been little action so far. On this fourth anniversary of the earthquake, the Obama administration could could take no better action to demonstrate its avowed concern for Haiti than to make good on its promise.