No one expected Haiti’s problems to be solved just one year after a monster earthquake hit the island on January 12, 2010 , leveling much of the impoverished nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and killing more than 250,000.
The world came together in the weeks after the natural disaster; Americans donated nearly $1.5 billion to help Haiti and another $5.3 billion was pledged at a donors conference two months after the 7.0 magnitude quake. Every penny was needed, as nearly two million people were left homeless, many of them forced into ramshackle tent cities, and nearly 400,000 children were made orphans by the latest natural disaster to strike the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
The 12 ensuing months have not been any easier, with the combined force of hurricane season, a bitterly divisive election and a mysterious cholera outbreak that has taken the lives of more than 3,600 and infected more than 170,000.
And while Tulane University medical student Alison Smith told MTV News on Tuesday that her recent trips have found slow progress on the island, representatives from two relief organizations, World Food Programme and Partners in Health, said they are seeing encouraging signs in Haiti.
“I think the year later is very different in many, many ways … and in many positive ways,” said Anne Poulsen, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme, one of the organizations that benefited from the more than $58 million raised by MTV’s record-setting “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon . The WFP has launched a number of initiatives on the island, from serving hot meals to more than 1.1 million Haitian children every day through its National School Meals Programme to distributing nutritional supplements to children and pregnant and lactating women (with more than 450,000 helped so far) to projects focusing on debris removal, drainage ditch digging and agricultural rehabilitation that provide paying jobs for more than 140,000.
To be sure, Poulsen said, the job was and remains huge and daunting, but the WFP managed to get food out to Haitians within hours of the earthquake and has since provided food assistance for more than 4 million in the country. “One year later, the town looks different. … The rubble has been removed, not all of it. … Buildings half-standing have been demolished. … A lot of the people who were in the tent camps, many of these have found a shelter, maybe not a permanent house,” said Poulsen, who recalled the devastation she saw when she first arrived last January as among the worst she’s seen in many years of relief work.
“You can see business back up, you can see markets functioning, you can see women carrying their fruit and vegetables down from the mountains,” she said, noting that the number of people in temporary shelters has decreased from 1.5 million in the aftermath of the earthquake to around 800,000 now.
Jon Lascher, one of the equipment procurement managers for the medical relief organization Partners in Health, is not surprised that two very different pictures exist of Haiti a year later. “It’s a very complex situation,” he told MTV News. “A year later there is no easy answer. … We are celebrating some of our small gains, but there has been progress made here and it’s interesting progress.”
Lascher said there are still “thousands” of workers with a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations lending a hand on the island. As the work has shifted from emergency search and rescue to a more long-term development phase, questions are being asked about what more needs to be done to create self-sufficiency and stability in the shattered nation.
For PIH, the first $8 million grant from the “Hope for Haiti” telethon was spent by June on emergency response, with $6 million going to the camps holding displaced Haitians, replacing their makeshift cardboard lean-tos with tents and more stable temporary shelters. PIH set up four medical clinics in these camps, the largest serving more than 51,000 people.
While amputations and crushed limb injuries were the big concerns soon after the quake, Lascher said sanitation continues to be a major issue. “Now our biggest concern is clean water, sanitation. You have large groups of people living in very close quarters without sanitation, without clean water, largely without access to proper nutrition,” he said. “What you find, especially now with the cholera epidemic, is that you have huge pockets of the population that are much more at risk for cholera and other diseases than they would have been before the earthquake.”
PIH’s staff in the country, many of whom were already there before the quake working on providing health care to Haitians, has grown by more than 1,000 since January to over 5,000, and Lascher said the organization is doing work it’s never done before on the island. In addition to its presence in the capital, where it had not worked before, PIH has set up three clinics in camps and set up a home for physically and mentally disabled children. It is also in the midst of building a 320-bed teaching hospital.
It’s a huge job, and Lascher knows that he will spend many more months and years attending to the needs of the island’s people. But he’s got reason to hope that the world won’t abandon Haiti.
“We’ve got an incredible group of committed donors and supporters that are still interested in Haiti and still concerned and helping us accomplish the work that we set forth,” he said. “Of course, we are still urging people to stay involved. The work here is far from over. There is so much more that needs to be done.”