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Rebuilding Haiti after the 2010 earthquake

Updated: Wed, 7 Jan 2015

In DetailBack to top

The 7.0 magnitude quake that rocked Haiti on Jan 12, 2010 was the country’s most powerful in more than 200 years. More than 200,000 people were killed, and 1.5 million of the country’s 10 million people were left homeless.

The tremor struck 15 km (10 miles) southwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, and was quickly followed by a series of strong aftershocks of up to 5.9 magnitude.

Thousands of homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed, as well as the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the presidential palace and the main prison. Nineteen of the 20 government ministries collapsed. Estimates of damage and losses range between $8 billion and $14 billion.

To make matters worse, a cholera epidemic started in October 2010 and spread across the country, killing thousands.

Five years after the quake, tens of thousands of people are still living in tents and makeshift shelters in Port-au-Prince.

Slow reconstruction is compounded by donor fatigue, corruption, and political instability caused by delayed legislative elections and anti-government protests

Reconstruction efforts have also been hampered by a series of tropical storms, including Hurricane Isaac in August 2012 and Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

Haiti is unusually prone to natural disasters, including landslides and floods triggered by hurricanes and droughts.

Years of neglect of agriculture and disaster prevention, coupled with the government’s failure to protect the environment and stem deforestation, have exacerbated the impact of hurricanes and weakened Haiti’s already fragile food supply, aid agencies say.

While Haiti remains the poorest nation in the Americas, the Haitian economy has been recovering since the earthquake, fuelled by bigger agricultural production and the construction and manufacturing sectors, according to the World Bank.

Initial responseBack to top

Rescue, medical and relief workers from around the globe began pouring into Haiti hours after the earthquake struck.

But they were hampered by the scale of the devastation. The quake destroyed much of the limited infrastructure - the main port was unable to function for several days, roads were destroyed, and there was a massive shortage of fuel to transport relief to the survivors.

Those best placed to organise a response - the government, United Nations and aid agencies based in Haiti - had lost staff, offices and computers in the quake.

Thousands of homeless fled to other parts of the country, but many settled in improvised camps around the capital which initially lacked food, water, decent shelter and medical care.

An estimated 4,000 people had to have limbs amputated, some because they did not receive medical attention in time.

Security was also a concern. The United States sent thousands of troops to help maintain law and order and deliver aid, and the United Nations boosted its peacekeeping force.

Days after the quake, the United Nations launched a flash appeal for $575 million in emergency aid. The response was overwhelming, and contributions and pledges poured in. In February 2010, the United Nations launched its largest ever humanitarian appeal for $1.44 billion.

Oxfam said the "unprecedented generosity" shown by the world  saved countless lives by providing water, sanitation, shelter, food aid, and other vital assistance to millions.

The U.N. World Food Programme helped close to 2 million Haitians with school meals, nutrition and cash-and-food-for-work programs.

However, the aid operation was also strongly criticised for a lack of coordination, perhaps not surprising given that it brought together a struggling government, a plethora of U.N. agencies, governments from around the world and a multitude of charities.

Wary of chronic government corruption, many nongovernmental organisations and aid donors set their own priorities, often with little coordination.

Of the thousands of charities working in Haiti, only a few hundred formally registered with the government and sent reports to the planning ministry as required by law.

The then prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, often complained that many charities in Haiti bypassed the government in their operations, some offering no reporting or accountability at all.

Before leaving Haiti in late 2010, the former Organization of American States representative Ricardo Seitenfus accused some humanitarian organisations of using the country as a "laboratory" and an opportunity to "do business".

The BBC reported that some people could not afford to leave the camps because the presence of foreign aid workers had pushed up rents.

In January 2011, Jean Renald Clerisme, who had one of Haiti's best paid jobs as senior adviser to then President Rene Preval, said he was being asked $2,000 rent for a house he wanted to move to - more than half his salary.

"When you have foreigners, the price goes up and the local cannot afford to pay," he told the BBC.

Clerisme said that aside from pushing up rents, foreign aid workers were actually encouraging more people to live in camps by concentrating nearly all their services on them.

Others said the influx of medical charities undermined Haiti's healthcare system because many medical staff quit to take better paid jobs with international agencies. The availability of free medical care meanwhile forced pharmacists out of business and doctors lost their patients.

An influx of free food similarly undercut local agriculture, according to Oxfam.

Recovery effortsBack to top

The United Nations estimated that 70,000 buildings collapsed and tens of thousands were damaged, creating an estimated 10 million cubic metres of rubble – enough to fill 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It took two years to clear about half the rubble. Much of it was done by hand on hillsides and in densely populated areas of the capital that were inaccessible to heavy machinery.

In early 2012, aid agencies began moving from offering emergency aid to longer-term development projects. The aid operation involved about 12,000 aid groups. Then Prime Minister Gary Conille said in January 2012 that the operation was too scattered and lacked coordination.

Five years after the earthquake, some 80,000 people are still homeless, most of them living in makeshift tent camps dotted around the capital in deteriorating conditions. Few of the camps have drinking water or enough toilets now that donors have pulled out.

Although the number of Haitians living in camps has fallen by nearly 90 percent from a July 2010 peak of 1.5 million, most people who have been relocated from camps have not moved into permanent housing and are renting.

Thousands of quake victims have been relocated after accepting cash and other assistance from aid groups, and many have been forcibly evicted by landowners. Many are now living in densely packed slums.

The capital had a major housing shortage even before the quake hit, with about 70 percent of residents living in slums.

In October 2013, the government launched Haiti’s first national housing policy in a bid to address the shortage of 500,000 new homes that it is estimated Haiti needs by 2020.

But Haiti Grassroots Watch, a local watchdog that monitors reconstruction, says government-led new housing projects have been marred by corruption and mismanagement.

Poor coordination and lack of funds have also hampered rebuilding efforts, and disputes over land ownership have proved a major obstacle too.

Before building work can start, the government and aid agencies need to determine who owns what land - a major challenge as the earthquake killed some 16,000 civil servants and destroyed title deeds and land registry records.

Even before the quake, land ownership was a thorny issue in Haiti, contributing to violence and poverty in a country where land is concentrated in the hands of a few big landowners, known as grandons.

Few Haitians own land titles and there is no proper land registry system, with most titles passed down orally from one generation to the next.

The government says that resettling camp dwellers and building new homes and government buildings is a priority.

Haiti's recovery has also been affected by its first cholera outbreak in decades, which began in October 2010 in an area unaffected by the earthquake and quickly spread across the country. Since then, the water-borne disease has killed an estimated 8,655 people and made 712,330 ill, the largest number of suspected cholera cases worldwide.

So far the U.N. has not been able to raise the $2.2 billion experts say is needed to build Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure and access to drinking water, which is vital to eradicate the country of cholera.  More than a third of Haitians lack access to drinking water.

An independent panel, appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to study the epidemic, issued a 2011 report that did not determine conclusively how cholera was introduced to Haiti.

However, in 2013, a Boston-based rights group, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, filed a lawsuit against the United Nations on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti, alleging that the cholera epidemic was introduced by U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal.

A disputed presidential election in 2011 and a political crisis that later deprived President Michel Martelly of a working government for months, also complicated the reconstruction efforts.

Many worry not enough is being done to provide Haitians with jobs and to address deep-rooted problems like education that could help Haiti pull itself out of crushing poverty and underdevelopment.

Funding reconstructionBack to top

Damage and losses from the earthquake were evaluated at $7.9 billion, according to the World Bank, though other estimates are higher.

At a major donors' conference in New York in March 2010, donors pledged billions of dollars to support Haiti's five-year reconstruction and development plan.

An interim disaster management body was set up in April to decide which reconstruction projects to fund. It was co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, and by Prime Minister Bellerive. It later handed over to a government redevelopment authority.

The money is administered through the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, a multi-donor trust fund, supervised by the World Bank and due to run until the end of 2017.

A major concern for donors is corruption which is rife in Haiti, particularly in the construction sector.

The U.S., the largest foreign aid donor in Haiti, allocated a total of $1.3 billion for humanitarian relief efforts and $2.3 billion for recovery, reconstruction and development.

Most of the money donated by the U.S. and other aid donors between 2010 and 2012, bypassed Haitian institutions. Of the $6.04 billion in humanitarian and recovery funding less than 10 percent went directly to the Haitian government, according to Paul Farmer, U.N. special adviser on lessons from Haiti.

“Even the local NGOs and businesses were excluded: less than 0.6 percent of that $6.04 billion was invested in Haitian organisations and businesses,” Farmer wrote in Foreign Affairs. “One of the top bilateral donors in Haiti awarded only 1.4 percent of its contracts to local companies.”

U.S. companies and NGOs continue to receive the bulk of U.S. aid funding for projects in Haiti. The U.S. spent more than $270 million on projects in Haiti in 2013, with U.S.-based companies receiving almost half of this and U.S. NGOs a further 37 percent, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Under Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who resigned in December 2014, the government created a “Haiti is open for business” campaign to attract foreign investment and links with the diaspora and private sector.

Threat of more tremorsBack to top

U.N. experts and aid agencies have urged the government and donors to commit to building earthquake- and hurricane-resistant schools, hospitals and houses. They say this would add less than 10 percent to building costs and save countless lives in the future.

Before the quake, Haiti's sprawling capital was littered with shoddy buildings because of low construction standards and inadequate building regulations. Many homes were built on steep slopes and unstable foundations.

Training people to protect themselves during an earthquake can also save lives. Many in Haiti did not know the safest places to go, and some were killed in the aftershocks because they did not leave their buildings after the first quake struck.

Haiti is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters in the world, including hurricanes, floods, landslides and droughts.

For more on Haiti's troubles, see our briefing on the country's violent past.

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