Haiti Still Suffering Six Months on From Earthquake
Six months after an earthquake devastated Haiti's capital and killed up to 300,000 people, Port-au-Prince is still a city of rubble, tented squalor and desperate need, charities have said.
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of the British aid charity Mary's Meals, has given the verdict after returning to the shattered Caribbean country.
On his first return trip since he went into Port-au-Prince just a few days after the quake in January, Mr MacFarlane-Barrow said he saw little evidence of the billions in aid that was pledged by a world stunned by the scale of the catastrophe.
"My overriding feeling has been one of great disappointment. I can't see that anything has changed for people since the earthquake," he said yesterday.
Before the earthquake, his charity, which has been a beneficiary of The Daily Telegraph Christmas Appeal, was feeding thousands of Haitian children, particularly in Cité Soleil, the shanty town on the edge of Port-au-Prince which has long been regarded as one of the world's worst slums.
"Driving about in the centre of Port-au-Prince, very little appears to have changed from six months ago," he said. "Most of the buildings are exactly as they were immediately after the earthquake, even the iconic buildings like the presidential palace and the cathedral are just standing there as they were." He said he was particularly struck not to see any "big earth moving equipment", adding: "I expected there would be lots of that. Any work that is being done is people working through the rubble by hand." Others report that, in stark contrast to the weeks after the earthquake when the major charities poured into Port-au-Prince, their vehicles are far thinner on the ground now.
To a degree, Haitians are getting on with their daily lives. The markets are open as are many of the schools. However, an estimated 1.2 million are still camping out in tents and tarpaulins, many without basic sanitation. Chaos over property ownership has complicated rebuilding efforts while the onset of what is expected to be a particularly wet storm season has prompted the United Nations to warn that a serious hurricane could be "devastating" to Haiti.
"The tents are everywhere - on the central reservation of the highways, on the pavements, and in places where houses used to be," said Mr MacFarlane-Barrow. "In the past couple of days it has been raining so there are streams running between the tents." A new report by the British Red Cross has warned that aid agencies providing water and sanitation are stretched to capacity and cannot keep going indefinitely.
The charity blamed the snail's pace reconstruction on a combination of government "dysfunction" and the scale of the disaster. It has not helped that only two per cent of the pounds 3.5 billion promised in short-term international aid has reportedly got to Haiti.
Certainly, the nightmare scenario - mass starvation and large-scale outbreaks of diarrhoea or cholera in the camps - has not happened. Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti's prime minister, feels justified in saying that the "total chaos" immediately after the quake is now "organised chaos".
Ordinary Haitians are "surprisingly upbeat", said Mr MacFarlane-Barrow, although he acknowledged they are "incredibly resilient people they're not sitting around worrying about hurricanes coming".
He said he had been struck by the progress made by ordinary people in Cité Soleil to rebuild their lives. "Yesterday, I saw them rebuilding local schools, the men filling cement mixers, queues of women walking in with buckets of water to pour in." he said.
Cité Soleil has been the focus of security concerns after many of the country's most dangerous criminals were feared to have fled there after the earthquake destroyed the main prison.
But Mr MacFarlane-Barrow said he was cheered to see that the children had come back to the slum's schools where Mary's Meals had also been able to feed many of the elderly without disruption from criminal elements.
The main priority, he believes, must be proper clear-up operations and rebuilding, preferably involving local people themselves to create employment.
Many Haitians do not have running water, electricity or adequate food - but, then, they didn't before the earthquake. "With the best will in the world those problems can't be solved overnight," said Mr MacFarlane-Barrow. "But I remain optimistic - I just hope for the people's sake it happens sooner rather than later."