Editorials

Haiti: Emerging from the rubble

FILE ART: Earthquake aftermath:The store NaNou on Jean Jacques Dessalines street burns in downtown Port-Au-Prince on Jan. 22, 2010.
FILE ART: Earthquake aftermath:The store NaNou on Jean Jacques Dessalines street burns in downtown Port-Au-Prince on Jan. 22, 2010. MIAMI HERALD

The earthquake that rocked Haiti five years ago brought unimaginable death and destruction. It’s aftermath generated unforeseen compassion and largesse.

Billions in foreign aid was pledged and legions of humanitarian workers poured into Haiti while powerful figures stepped up, such as former President Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the international coordinating body for the reconstruction process.

A caring, worldwide spotlight finally fell on Haiti, bringing an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild the troubled country’s infrastructure with an amount nearing $10 billion — the equivalent of a massive Kickstarter project to rebuild a nation, literally and figuratively, from the ground up.

But as Haiti prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of one its most tragic events, the magnitude 7 earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, it continues to face a series of political and economic challenges.

Today, veteran Miami Herald Caribbean reporter Jacqueline Charles, who has covered the destruction and reconstruction of Haiti, says there’s been progress. “The rubble is gone,” she said, of the debris that once could fill up to five football stadiums.

But five years later, the lives of Haiti’s vulnerable people have seen little concrete change because they are once again gripped by political instability due to feuding between the administration of President Michel Martelly and his political opponents.

Homes that were to be constructed for those left homeless by the quake are not yet a full reality. The country’s largest ghetto of quake victims sprung up and only in recent months have its tenants found housing.

So what has gone awry?

Lucrative construction deals to rebuild have gone to outside companies, not local Haitians firms which means the money has not trickled down.

Haitians have often been held back by bad leadership from decision-makers, but the blame also goes to an earthquake-aid system that operates ineffectively and sputters along. Corruption in high places makes donors shy away from channeling money through the Haitian government, yet Western aid bodies have rarely proved themselves to be any more accountable.

Despite all that remains undone in Haiti, there’s progress: Battered roads have been replaced; there’s a new international airport and new hotels, as well as some visible signs of international investments.

Those involved in the reconstruction of Haiti this week are defending their work and its value. Haiti’s former prime minister, Laurent Lamothe writes in an upcoming Miami Herald Other Views piece that much progress was made during his tenure: “There have been significant accomplishments in education, the reconstruction of old and construction of new infrastructure, the complete transformation of our tourism sector and our gains in making Haiti a safer place to both visit and invest.”

Tom Adams, Haiti special coordinator for the State Department, also painted a brighter picture during a conference call this week: As the five-year mark approaches, he hopes the story is “not that Haiti is in permanent political gridlock, but that Haiti has made progress.”

The Accountability Lab, which monitors how world aid is spent, says it’s imperative that as Haiti continues to rebuild, it creates a culture of transparency within the aid system, or its efforts will be doomed. Good advice.

After all, this is Haiti’s last and best chance. It needs to get this right.

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