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One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Reconstruction is Slow

Scene of debris in Haiti one year after earthquake struck
Scene of debris in Haiti one year after earthquake struck

One year after the earthquake in Haiti, reconstruction is still in its infancy. No one expected the poorest country in the Western hemisphere to bounce back quickly from the quake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

But although hundreds of non-governmental organizations have been working on the ground to make life tolerable for the Haitian people, there is widespread frustration with the pace of progress.

A year after the earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, there are few visible signs of reconstruction.

Only five percent of the rubble has been removed from the city. An estimated 800,000 people are still living in tents. And according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, only 38 percent of the $1.4 billion in charitable contributions from U.S. donors has been spent. Many are asking why.

“When people ask me in one word, which is tough to answer, what is wrong with Haiti today, and why haven’t we moved forward, the answer is leadership. We need leadership and we are really relying on the next [Haitian] administration to provide that,” said Julie Schindall, the spokesperson for Oxfam International.

It’s a common theme.

The Haitian government has been unable to fully respond. Thirteen of the 15 government ministry buildings collapsed in the quake. Thirty percent of the government's workforce was killed.

In addition, November’s election results have not been announced, amid allegations of fraud.

Non-governmental organizations agree that the funds and know how for reconstruction are in Haiti. But they say there is no viable government to partner with.

“The money will only be released when there are realistic plans because we want the money to go to the right place. We don’t want the money to disappear into a black hole. Everybody has an interest in results out of this," said Leonard Doyle, with the International Organization for Migration, an NGO working in Haiti.

Aid organizations say the initial phase of disaster relief, providing basic shelter, food and water, went well given the enormous destruction.

The second phase, getting people into temporary housing and starting permanent construction, has been problematic.

Matthew Cochrane with the International Red Cross, who has been working to build transitional homes in Port au Prince, says finding space to build in the city is not easy. Land records have been destroyed and obtaining clear title is often complicated.

But he is optimistic the coming year will be more productive. “I think a lot of the legal hurdles are beginning to be overcome. I think in the next month you will see a significant increase in the rate of construction,” he said.

There has also been criticism of the NGOs operating in the country.

Julie Schindall with Oxfam says donors would rather spend money on sexy projects like building a school or a hospital, rather than removing the mass of debris from the city.

“We need to think what is our added value here. What do we have to bring. And it has to be something that doesn’t exist inside of the country. And it has to be something where we end up training Haitians and giving Haitians the skills to carry out those projects themselves,” she said.

The NGOs agree that reconstruction will take years. They say now is the time to redouble their commitment and work toward moving the country forward.