Haiti- six months on, what can we really expect?

First published for Oxfam at http://tinyurl.com/353xb8w


Americanisation is often seen as damaging to other nations’ cultures.

But the US’s influence on what the world considers important can only have helped Haiti after the earthquake six months ago.

Hundreds of Haitians have escaped poverty for fame in the United States, as sports stars, models and musicians.

And with the island’s close proximity to the superpower and the sheer force of the disaster, fundraising happened on a massive scale.

But half a year on the BBC has begun asking whether stalled progress, shown by news outlets here, will deter such a concerted response in the future.

Why so little progress?

Before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world.

Nearly half the population did not have access to clean drinking water, 86 percent of people in urban areas lived in slums and 83 percent of people had inadequate access to toilets.

Less than half of the 2.8 million people living in the capital Port-au-Prince had access to electricity.

Social services were similarly poor, with many children not attending school, 38 percent of the population over the age of 15 illiterate and unemployment at 30 percent.

No amount of aid, especially in a crisis, can change the structure of a country overnight.

Disaster

The death toll of 222,570 means there are hundreds of thousands of people still experiencing grief, hardly great circumstances to face rebuilding their lives.

Another 300,000 were injured, and presumably family members are now caring for them, another, often invisible drain on human energies.

One and a half million people are living in temporary housing- tents, corrugated iron and tarpaulin- amongst the 19 million cubic meters of rubble from the collapse or damage of 188,383 houses, 3,978 schools and 30 hospitals.

A quarter of the civil service were killed in the disaster and government buildings were destroyed- the very people and resources necessary to co-ordinate the clean up.

So will it deter response?

For people to give, they must appreciate the extreme circumstances that a natural disaster presents- it could happen to any of us- and go into it with the knowledge that rebuilding large areas of a country takes time.

Adding to that the context of poor infrastructure, which increased the scale of destruction, means time for planning a useful and permanent build is equally understandable.

True picture

To make sure that people are not deterred from giving in these kinds of situations, coverage must be balanced between holding donors to account with showing what progress has been made.

Having raised $90 million, Oxfam is helping more than 440,000 people gain access to clean water, sanitation, education, shelter, and support for livelihoods.

Stories are still coming out of families surviving against the odds to become reunited.

But Jean Renald Clerisme, a presidential adviser, claims that less than 2 percent of the aid pledged has been received.

A BBC news report showed a church group digging themselves out of the rubble.

Is this community empowerment, or an example of a lack of help from the outside world?

With expensive foreign news bureaus closing, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get a true picture of the world.

Ultimately the BBC has the pleasure of being founded in a country that doesn’t experience emergencies of this scale.

Maybe, all things considered, six months is too early to ask.

What do you think?

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