5 years on, Haiti struggles with quake legacy

5 years on, Haiti struggles with quake legacy

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti - Five years after a powerful earthquake demolished Haiti's capital, more than a million homeless survivors have been rehoused, but thousands remain under canvas, or struggle with trauma and injury.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as the world's media scrambled over wreckage dotted with the corpses of more than 300,000 victims, billions of dollars in foreign aid was pledged.

But much of it never came through.

And Haiti's own efforts to get on its feet were hampered by ongoing political instability and by a cholera outbreak blamed on UN peacekeepers' poor hygiene.

Of the aid that was given, much was spent on emergency relief in the immediate weeks and months after the disaster in Port-au-Prince, and Haiti's longer-term recovery and reconstruction has stumbled.

Public attention wanes 

"Five years ago, the eyes of the world were on Haiti after the devastating earthquake tore lives apart and left more than two million homeless," said Chiara Liguori of Amnesty International.

"Sadly, since then, the world's interest has waned while tens of thousands of people remain destitute and homeless." Even before the quake of January 12, 2010, which ripped the heart out of the capital and several nearby towns, Haiti was the poorest country in the Americas.

Still, most of the refugees from the catastrophe have now been rehoused by their own hard work or with the help of local and international aid agencies working with Haitian officials.

"Five years on, for us reconstruction is above all about those people who are living in tents," Harry Adam, director of Haiti's official public building unit, part of the government, told AFP.

"Right after the earthquake, there were 1.5 million of them. Now we have a little under 70,000." Those not lucky enough to have found new homes live in places like the shantytown that sprang up around the Camp Corail shelter in Canaan, 15 kilometers (8 miles) outside Port-au-Prince.

No water, power or jobs

There, homeless Haitians like Djouvens Noel still live under canvas, without fresh water, electricity or jobs - a constant complaint among those left behind by the reconstruction effort.

"Compared to Port-au-Prince, where you can easily sell anything you want, here there are no jobs, there's nothing, so people can't really buy things," Noel told AFP.

According to Amnesty's estimates, 85,432 people remain homeless and 25,000 families have inadequate housing. Thousands have also been forcibly evicted from shelters, the group alleged.

"In the wake of the disaster, there seemed to be a common ambition to finally address seriously the issue of housing in Haiti. That dream seems to have been long forgotten," said Liguori.

Others lost more than their homes. In the La Piste camp, some of the estimated 4,000 amputees who lost limbs in the quake live in simple plywood shelters.

"Because of my amputated leg, even though I'd like to go to work, I can't," said Jean-Baptiste Saint-Milio.

"Sometimes people give me some food for the kids. But sometimes they can go for days without eating." Aid agencies such as Handicap International are doing what they can in a country that lacks the specialists needed to produce prosthetic limbs and train amputees to use them.

Now people like James Medina, who lost a leg in the quake, are training to fill that skills gap and help others in similar situations.

"When I treat those who've been handicapped," he said, "as a victim of the earthquake myself, it gives me the courage to help them. It brings it right back to me."

Where did the money go? 

But while local projects continue, Haitian leaders remain frustrated that much of the estimated nine billion dollars publicly promised by world bodies in the wake of the quake never arrived.

Some of it was spent by international aid agencies without passing through Haitian coffers. Some was never disbursed.

"Some of that money was pledged and not delivered, so it never really existed," explained Jonathan Katz, author of "The Big Truck That Went By," a book on the quake and its aftermath.

"A lot of the money was spent on band-aid solutions that were expended very quickly at the beginning and weren't ever intended to have a long shelf-life," he said.

"Insofar as any of that was ever intended to create long-term, durable infrastructure and things like that, that kind of long-term, durable infrastructure hasn't been created."

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