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Three Years After The Massive Earthquake, People In Haiti Are Said To Be No Better Off
January 11, 2013
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Tomorrow, it will be three years since that massive earthquake in Haiti. And by most accounts, the people there are no better off.

The disaster in 2010 killed between 230,000 and 300,000 people and left up to two million people homeless, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Now, three years on, not a lot has changed.

350,000 to 400,000 people are still living in camps across the country - a situation Amnesty International refers to as "nothing short of catastrophic".

It's hot during the day. It often rains at night. They sleep on dirt floors and they don't have enough water or toilets - which has led to the spread of diseases, including a cholera epidemic.

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In a news release this week, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières said Haiti's health care system remains devastated.

The organization runs four hospitals in Haiti, that were set up immediately after the quake.

It says tens of thousands of Haitians have received free, high-quality health care from MSF, but Haitian authorities aren't prepared to take over.

"The transition process is much too slow," said Joan Arnan, MSF's head of mission in Haiti.

"That's because Haitian institutions are weak, donors have not kept their promises, and the government and the international community have failed to set clear priorities."

Since the quake, Haiti's government has moved tens of thousands of people out of the camps and back into neighbourhoods. But many still have nothing - living in the slums.

Alexandra Simin is 25, and a mother with two children, living in a one room shack where they sleep on the floor.

She told the Miami Herald "I always thought that after a year things would be easier; there would be jobs in the country and I could find work."

"I really thought life would have gotten better."

"We haven't seen change. People have problems with food, problems with schools, problems with housing," she said. "Once you have a problem with finding a place to sleep, you just might as well just die. There's no living."

The BBC did a piece with Jonathan Katz. He was the only full-time American reporter in Haiti when the quake hit.

He has a new book called 'The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.'

You can read an excerpt on Democracy Now's website and check out his take on Haiti in this video.

Roger Annis is a coordinator based in Vancouver with the Canada Haiti Action Network.

"The services that were there a year and two years ago simply aren't there anymore - clean water, medical services, schools for the kids to go to - it's all gotten worse," he told The Straight

It wasn't supposed to be this way, at least in theory.

After the quake, countries around the world stepped up to help Haiti - promising more than five billion dollars in aid.

So far, only half of that money has been delivered. International aid has kept many people alive - without question.

It has provided emergency relief, cleared rubble from the streets, and improved health-care services.

And there are organizations doing good work. One of them is 'Artists For Peace And Justice', founded by Paul Haggis.

Here he is in the red chair, talking about keeping promises in Haiti.

After the quake, Haiti's government made big promises - new homes, new jobs, and a "new Haiti." It hasn't happened, many say - not even close.

Father Kawas François is a Haitian Jesuit priest, who helped co-ordinate the emergency response when the quake struck.

In an interview with The Guardian, he said many people "don't have enough money to rent a house, or to rebuild a house."

"It is difficult for them because most of them don't work, they have no jobs. NGOs cannot do everything. They cannot rehouse all the people in Haiti."

Pauline and Wilbert Jean-Louis and their family are an example.

They live in a slum - six people in a tiny apartment. For months, they've been struggling to come up with $325 - so they don't get evicted.

As the Miami Herald writes, "The living conditions are far different from tent living... But with no steady income, and only the goodwill of her landlord keeping a roof over their heads, (Louis) wonders whether she would have been better with a job instead of the house."

Evictions are a fear for people living in camps too. Many camps are set up on private land, so people can be kicked out anytime. And it's not pretty.

Amnesty International tells the story of Marie (not her real name) and her child, who were evicted from a camp with a number of other families.

"The camp committee was putting pressure on us to leave the camp. They said they needed the square for a [football] championship. But we didn't have anywhere to go so we stayed there," Marie said.

"They distributed leaflets every now and then with threats. At night they would throw stones and bottles on our tents," she said. "Then one day at 3 o'clock in the morning, they came and started knocking on the doors."

"Then they destroyed my shelter with razor blades and knives... They pushed me out and started tearing down everything. I did not have time to take any of my things with me; I left only with the clothes I was wearing."

George went to Haiti to shoot a special for the show, that we aired at this time last year. Here it is in two parts.

Father Kawas says social class and political influence also play a role in all of this.

"I think it's difficult to rehouse these people because most of the land surrounding Port-au-Prince belongs to very powerful families and those families don't want to give the land to the state to rehouse people," he told The Guardian.

"It's a very big problem because those families are very powerful and they have many political resources so they can influence the decisions of the state."

Ultimately, many people blame Haiti's government and the international community, for not having a solid plan to rebuild.

"The big problem for NGOs and for many actors in Haiti is the lack of a national plan for construction," said Father Kawas.

"For example, the Canadian agency for international development - they have a lot of projects in Haiti, but we don't see co-ordination with USAid," he said.

"Sometimes they do the same work, so it's also a real problem for the government. I would like international actors to help the government to have a plan."

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For its part, the government says it is making progress.

It points out that as people move out of the camps, they get (on average) a $500 rent subsidy for a year, and an extra $150.

"Considering many Haitians make barely $2 a day, this can represent close to five months' salary for some," said one official.

The government says more than 630,000 people have received that kind of help to move out of the camps.

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Trouble is, families are on their own in finding a place to live and getting a deal with the landlord. Amnesty International says the project has helped some people, but it's just a short term fix.

Amnesty says once the $500 subsidy runs out, many families can't afford the rent and don't know where they'll go - let alone pay for the other basics of life.

"Current government housing initiatives seem to focus more on preventing people from living in public squares than providing them with safe homes," said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

"What we want to see is the implementation of policies that will actually make the right to adequate housing a reality in the country," he said.

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Clement Belizaire is the director of the government's camp relocation and neighborhood rehabilitation program.

He told the Miami Herald "We know there are still camps, but as you drive on a regular day you don't see much camps."

"The first priority of the government was public squares; the second was schools and then sports infrastructures," he said.

"We cleared all the major public structures; we cleared all the major sports infrastructures; we cleared all of the major schools."

In the past few months, the government also has opened a state university, and tore down the badly damanged National Palace.

It unveiled a new arrival lounge at Haiti's main airport and a luxury hotel in Port-au-Prince that was paid for with private money.

All that is well and good, but critics say what about jobs and what about housing.

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"Back in 2010, the world couldn't move fast enough to help Haiti but three years on, we see that the hopes for its recovery have not been realized, as the rights of Haitians do not seem to have been made a priority," said Zúñiga of Amnesty International.

The Canada Haiti Action Network says there are organizations in Haiti that are building new housing, but it's not nearly enough.

"There are these efforts happening, but on the scale of what's required, it's still a very small scale," Roger Annis said. "It really requires a commitment by the government and by its international allies.

"There's only one solution to the housing crisis in Haiti, and that is to have a vast program of building public housing."

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