Remember Haiti? Giles Clarke Does

By Giles Clarke

On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, killing over 230,000 people, injuring many more, and leaving 1.5 million homeless. Although the media has since moved on for the most part, many Haitians are still struggling in scores of tent cities around Port-au-Prince and all along the coast. In Léogâne, a seaside town near the epicenter of the quake, 90 percent of the town's buildings were destroyed and a quarter of its residents died. Many aid organizations such as Medicin sans Frontieres had two-year contracts from the Haitian government to provide services to the tent cities, but these contracts have quietly been allowed to expire, leaving thousands of families in dire straits. Many don't like to talk about the earthquake and find solace in the spiritual—either in Christian churches or at voodoo ceremonies. There are now over 12,000 registered NGO organizations in Haiti, which is still the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 

Léogâne, 20 miles to the west of Port-au-Prince, was one of the hardest-hit towns. Survivors were treated on hospital ships that moored just off the coast in those first frantic few days following the quake. 

The UN and many international aid agencies are actively helping the people rebuild their homes and lives. Many of the town's surviving residents will never sleep in stone buildings again and now camp in tents and makeshift houses behind the dilapidated ruins of the few remaining buildings.

A bird's eye view of Cité Soleil, a shanty town near Port-au-Prince that grew to an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 residents, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty. The area is generally regarded as one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the western hemisphere and it is one of the world's largest slums. Cité Soleil has has a poorly maintained open canal system that serves as its sewage system, few formal businesses, sporadic but largely free electricity, a few hospitals, and a single government school, Lycee Nationale de Cite Soleil. 

Children on the seawall in Cité Soleil. The boats in the background are laden with charcoal that is shipped in from an island just off the coast to the north.

In the abandoned warehouses in Cité Soleil, young gang members (or "soldiers," as they call themselves) take shelter from the midday sun. For several years, the area was ruled by gangs, each of which controlled a few blocks. Government control was reestablished after a series of operations in early 2007 by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti with the participation of the locals. Though the gangs no longer rule, murder, rape, kidnapping, looting, and shootings are still common. The area has been calleda "microcosm of all the ills in Haitian society: endemic unemployment, illiteracy, non-existent public services, unsanitary conditions, rampant crime, and armed violence." After the earthquake, it took nearly two weeks for aid to arrive in Cité Soleil.

In Haiti, 63 children out of a thousand die at birth and the country has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world. It's an improvement from the 1950s, when the rate was a shocking 240 per thousand. Thankfully, this number continues to decline... but not fast enough. 

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