Haiti: One year later

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—There is change here, but it is subtle. Gone are the mounds of rubble that lined the main roads like giant beached whales, replaced by scattered dollops of jumbled rocks. Look closely up the hills at the shanty homes made of scraps of tin and weathered blue tarps, and you spot the odd tin roof — the newly built transitional shelter. Construction crews are hard at work at scattered locations around town.

But it is not enough for people like Venette Altime, who still lives in a tent, balancing her newborn son on one shoulder and her crippled mother on the other to make their laboured way to a distant toilet.

How could it ever be enough?

Tents are made for weekend camping. In this forlorn city, more than 800,000 traumatized souls still sweat beneath tattered tarps.

“We are tired,” says Altime, 18. “When it rains, we all have to stand up. When it’s sunny, we have to get out by 7 because it’s so hot. It’s not a life.”

At 4.53 Wednesday afternoon, a year will have passed since the 7.0 earthquake crashed through this city, throwing buildings to their knees, dividing the unlucky dead from the lucky survivors in a mere 35 seconds.

The statistics still overwhelm: 230,000 dead, 4,000 amputees, 1,150 refugee camps persist in this city alone, squeezed onto every traffic circle.

Relief was quick, recovery much slower. Blame is apportioned liberally — to the already weakened Haitian government, the foreign-staffed recovery commission doling out meager contracts, the miserly foreign donors, the thousands of NGO workers, riding in their gleaming air-conditioned SUVS while hungry Haitians look on wearily.

Where are the promised jobs? Where are the promised homes? The lucky ones count themselves only half-blessed. Marie-Carline Marcellus has been raped twice by armed gangs since her home collapsed, crushing her sleeping husband to death. A local Haitian rape-support group has found her an apartment. But she lost her small business selling plates on the street and there’s no money to send her three kids to school or often, to eat.

“Given the basic problems that existed before Jan. 12, this was not going to be resolved in one year,” says the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher, noting that most experts have always projected a ten-year process. And that was before the distraction of Hurricane Tomas and the recent cholera outbreak.

“There’s been progress, but there needs to be much more.”

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