7 Years After Haiti’s Earthquake, Millions Still Need Aid

guards raise the haitian national flag outside the quake-destroyed ruins of the presidential palace
Guards raise the Haitian national flag outside the quake-destroyed ruins of the Presidential Palace on November 16, 2010 in Port-au-Prince. Haiti’s cholera death toll passed 1,000, including dozens of deaths in the teeming capital, as the epidemic showed no sign of abating just two weeks ahead of presidential elections. AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

The resilience of the Haitian people has endured through years of natural disasters

January 12, 2017 — On Jan. 12, 2010, a massive earthquake ravaged Haiti, claiming up to 316,000 lives and displacing more than 1.5 million people. Today ― seven years later ― 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid, according to a new report from the United Nations. 

The quake tore a catastrophic path of destruction through the ailing island nation, leaving Haitians with a herculean recovery mission. In the years that followed, a string of devastating natural disasters have fueled ongoing famine and poverty crises, given rise to a deadly cholera epidemic, and quashed Haiti’s continued efforts to rebuild.

“Haitians continue to suffer years after the earthquake,” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Mourad Wahba, who has worked in the country for two years, told The WorldPost. “People lost their friends and family. I see the pain in their faces when they talk about it now. It’s a very long healing process.”

The earthquake injured about 300,000 people and left 3.3 million facing food shortages. With more than 80 percent of rural housing severely affected, hundreds of thousands of newly homeless people were forced to live in scattered tent cities. Vital public institutions including schools, medical facilities and government buildings crumbled to the ground in hard-hit parts of the country, including the capital of Port-au-Prince. The quake also decimated crops and irrigation canals in many areas ― a massive blow to a nation that has historically relied heavily on farming and agriculture.

“There are still about 55,000 people in camps and makeshift camps,” noted Wahba. “Many are still living in unsanitary conditions due to displacement caused by the earthquake. We have a very long way to go.”

suffering from a case of cholera at the international red cross station
Mackenzy Regis, 7, holds his head while suffering from a case of cholera at the International Red Cross station near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday, November 26, 2010, a day before the nation holds presidential elections. (Photo by C.W. Griffin/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)

Just months after the 2010 earthquake hit, the worst cholera epidemic in recent history rapidly engulfed Haiti, killing thousands and infecting more than 6 percent of the population in just over two years. The ongoing crisis placed enormous strain on Haiti’s severely weakened health care system, and has also killed hundreds of people in nearby nations, including in Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

U.N. peacekeepers are accused of spreading the disease in Haiti before the outbreak. Former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon apologized for his organization’s role in the epidemic during an address in December, saying “we are profoundly sorry.”

There is also a distrust of humanitarian organizations in the country due to slow reconstruction following the earthquake, despite billions of dollars raised in international aid. The Red Cross, for example, is accused of building only six homes in Haiti with nearly half a billion dollars in donated funds, and spending millions on internal expenses.

Haiti’s slow and painstaking recovery has also been hindered by alarmingly high levels of poverty. Michele Wucker, the author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle for Hispaniola, talked to Newsweek in 2010 about the economic struggles in Haiti, where at least 58.6 percent of the population lives in poverty. She attributed many of the nation’s financial problems to former Haitian dictators Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986.

“The Duvaliers left Haiti economically decimated,” she said. “A large number of educated professionals left the country during the Duvalier regimes, and the period that followed was so unstable, it was hard to lay down roots and build infrastructure.”

Wucker also shed light on how foreign intervention has affected the country from its earliest days:

Haiti won its independence after a long revolution that destroyed a lot of the country. They were then required to pay a large indemnity to France or else many countries—including the United States—refused to acknowledge Haiti for fear that it would encourage an American slave revolt. More recently, both Haiti and the Dominican Republic were occupied by the United States, but Haiti was occupied for much longer. By the time the U.S. pulled out in 1934, Haiti’s own institutions had atrophied.

Haiti’s political woes have largely continued through the 21st century. In early 2016, political chaos erupted into violent protests that pushed controversial President Michel Martelly out of office. The power vacuum left the country in a state of uncertainty without proper leadership at a time of national crisis.

Haiti is especially vulnerable to natural crises. Its location puts it at risk for hurricanes and earthquakes, and a lack of adequate infrastructure amplifies the effects of these disasters.

Hurricane Sandy crashed through the country in 2012, causing drastic flooding and scores of new deaths and cases of disease infections. Then, a three-year drought plunged Haiti deeper into famine and poverty.

In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed at least 1,000 people and leveled entire communities. Downed trees and collapsed buildings blocked roadways in some of the worst-hit areas, making it extremely difficult to deliver desperately needed supplies and support. Experts correctly predicted the storm would lead to a resurgence of sicknesses like diarrhea and cholera.

After each tragedy, Haitians begin the rebuilding process once again.

“There has been a lot of solidarity. People were working to restore their homes and livelihoods right away,” said Wahba, who was in Haiti during Hurricane Matthew. “A lot of markets that were badly damaged have already started functioning again. I think it shows a lot of resilience.”

This year, hundreds of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic are expected to return to Haiti as the neighboring country continues to execute waves of arbitrary expulsions. This will place strenuous demands on Haiti’s crippled agriculture sector and leave many returnees in limbo, without homes or jobs awaiting them.

President-elect Jovenel Moïse, who was elected in November, will face an array of humanitarian and socioeconomic challenges when he takes office.

The photos below show Haitians rebuilding their country, time after time.

people rebuilt some makeshift shelters
People rebuilt some makeshift shelters in front of destroyed houses and church in downtown Leogane, 17 kms western Port au Prince, on January 16, 2010, as 90% of building were destroyed according to UN source, four days after an earthquake majoring 7.0 only open-ended Richter scale hit the Haitian capital. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
a man carries, on his head, a bundle of metal bars salvaged from the rubble of collapsed buildings
A man carries, on his head, a bundle of metal bars salvaged from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince, January 17, 2010. World leaders have pledged massive assistance to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake killed as many as 200,000 people, but five days into the crisis aid distribution was still random, chaotic and minimal. REUTERS/Ana-Bianca Marin (Haiti – Tags: POLITICS DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
temporary workers remove rice from a warehouse
Temporary workers remove rice from a warehouse as the clear up gets underway in Port-au-Prince on January 26, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / ROBERTO SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
women clean the rubble and streets of the carrefour feuille area of port-au-prince
Women clean the rubble and streets of the Carrefour Feuille area of Port-au-Prince January 26, 2010 in a UNDP “Cash for Work” program. Haiti could start relocating homeless earthquake survivors from its ruined capital this week, but it will need at least five to 10 years of international help to rebuild from the catastrophe. REUTERS/Sophia Paris/UN Photos/Handout (HAITI – Tags: DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
locals remove building materials after brazilian military engineers from the united nations peacekeeping mission dumped debris from their former base at fort nationale
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – FEBRUARY 4: In this handout image provided by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), locals remove building materials after Brazilian military engineers from the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission dumped debris from their former base at Fort Nationale in Bel Air at a site in the shanty town Cite Soleil on February 4, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The former base at Fort Nationale in Bel Air collapsed killing 17 Brazilian peacekeepers during the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12. Locals rummaging through the rubble at the dump site take whatever they can to sell or use to rebuild their homes. (Photo by Sophia Paris/MINUSTAH via Getty Images) As they dump the rubble mostly consisting of cement and iron rods, people take what they can to re-sell or use to rebuild their own homes.
workers rebuild the destroyed college st jean i'evangeliste in port-au-prince
Workers rebuild the destroyed College St Jean l’Evangeliste in Port-au-Prince on April 5, 2010 as schools reopen following the January 12 earthquake which devastated the city, killing 222.000 people and living at least 1.3 million homeless in Haiti. AFP PHOTO/Thony BELIZAIRE (Photo credit should read THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images)
haitians construct a wall as they rebuild a house destroyed
Haitians construct a wall as they rebuild a house destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 7, 2011. Reconstruction has barely begun in Haiti a year after its catastrophic earthquake, a leading international charity said on Wednesday in a report sharply critical of a recovery commission led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.REUTERS/Kena Betancur (HAITI – Tags: CONSTRUCTION DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
haitian residents rebuild a house destroyed
Haitian residents rebuild a house destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 9, 2011. Haiti will this week mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed around 250,000 people and wrecked much of the capital Port-au-Prince on Jan 12, 2010. REUTERS/Kena Betancur (HAITI – Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
construction workers pour cement rebuilding a wall in port-au-prince
Construction workers pour cement rebuilding a wall in Port-Au-Prince April 12, 2011. Reconstruction takes on a new importance in parts of Port-Au-Prince following the 7.2 earthquake in Jan of 2010, affecting an estimated three million people. The Haitian government reported that an estimated 316,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless. Photo Ken Cedeno (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Digital/Corbis via Getty Images)
anousse batissin ties steel rods together on a walls at normally high school in port-au-prince
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – JANUARY 10: Anousse Batissin ties steel rods together on a walls at Normally High School in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, January 11, 2012 as the city begins to rebuild following the earthquake two years ago. (Photo by Ken Cedeno for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
a firefighter helps clear a flooded street
A firefighter helps clear a flooded street, in Santo Domingo, on October 25, 2012. Hurricane Sandy barreled toward the Bahamas Thursday as a powerful category two storm, after battering Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba and claiming three lives so far. The US-based National Hurricane Center said the storm was packing winds of up to 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour as it moved north, near the top of the category two range on the five-rung Saffir-Simpson wind scale. Forecasters predicted the storm would weaken somewhat over the next 48 hours. But Sandy will remain a hurricane as it passes over the Bahamas, according to the NHC’s 1500 GMT advisory. AFP PHOTO/ERIKA SANTELICES (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)
a man moves his belongings which were damaged by hurricane sandy
A man moves his belongings which were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba October 25, 2012. Hurricane Sandy grew into a major potential threat to the east coast of the United States on Thursday after hammering Cuba’s second-largest city and taking aim at the Bahamas, U.S. forecasters said. Strengthening rapidly after tearing into Jamaica and crossing the warm Caribbean Sea, Sandy hit southeastern Cuba early on Thursday with 105-mph winds that cut power and blew over trees across the city of Santiago de Cuba. Reports from the city of 500,000 people, about 470 miles (750 km) southeast of Havana spoke of significant damage, with many homes damaged or destroyed. According to one Cuban radio report, at least one person was killed, bringing the death toll to at least three after fatalities in Jamaica and Haiti. REUTERS/Miguel Rubiera/Cuban Government National Information Agency – AIN/Handout (CUBA – Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
a haitian farmer waters his crop in an area outside of port-au-prince
A Haitian farmer waters his crop in an area outside of Port-au-Prince January 21, 2013. Picture taken January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Swoan Parker (HAITI – Tags: AGRICULTURE)
workers move bales of vetiver roots to be processed at the agri-supply distillery
Workers move bales of Vetiver roots to be processed at the Agri-supply distillery, the largest vetiver distillery in the world, in Les Cayes, on Haiti’s southwest coast, March 27, 2014. The oil extracted from the roots of the Vetiver grass is Haiti’s best-kept agricultural secret, providing one of the most prized essential oils for high-end French perfumes. Picture taken March 27, 2014. To match with feature HAITI-PERFUME REUTERS/stringer (HAITI – Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY)
workers dig up the roots of vetiver grass plants on a plantation outside les cayes
Workers dig up the roots of Vetiver grass plants on a plantation outside Les Cayes, on Haiti’s southwest coast, March 27, 2014. The oil extracted from the roots of the Vetiver grass is Haiti’s best-kept agricultural secret, providing one of the most prized essential oils for high-end French perfumes. Picture taken March 27, 2014. To match with feature HAITI-PERFUME REUTERS/stringer (HAITI – Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY)
people in haiti continue to rebuild and reestablish their daily routines after the five year anniversary of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – JANUARY 13: People in Haiti continue to rebuild and reestablish their daily routines after the five year anniversary of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying buildings and killing as many as 316,000 people, on January 13, 2015 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Five years later the city of Port-au-Prince struggles to recover as the government attempts to avoid a political crisis over the lack of parliamentary elections. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
a man ties sticks to build a makeshift tent at a refugee camp for haitians
A man ties sticks to build a makeshift tent at a refugee camp for Haitians returning from the Dominican Republic on the outskirts of Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti, September 7, 2015. Dominican officials last month began implementing a controversial immigration program targeting Haitian migrants and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. The program centers on round-ups and deportations that have triggered concerns about a slow-growing border migration crisis in the poorest country in the Americas. So far about 1,500 people have been deported at a pace of 50 to 100 per day, according to relief officials with access to records supplied by the Dominican government. The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the number of deportees. Thousands more have fled the Dominican Republic out of fear of arrest or harassment, scared by neighbors, bosses, coworkers and police or immigration officials. Picture taken September 7, 2015. To match Feature HAITI-DOMINICAN/DEPORTEES REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
people try to rebuild their destroyed houses after hurricane matthew
People try to rebuild their destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
a man rebuilds his house after hurricane matthew passed in camp perrin, haiti
A man rebuilds his house after Hurricane Matthew passed in Camp Perrin, Haiti, October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
people try to rebuild their destroyed house after hurricane matthew
People try to rebuild their destroyed house after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
workers try to rebuild a partially destroyed orphanage after hurricane matthew
Workers try to rebuild a partially destroyed orphanage after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
men try to rebuild a house after hurricane matthew
Men try to rebuild a house after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
a boy looks at a man as he puts new beams to rebuild the roof in a house affected by hurricane matthew
A boy looks at a man as he puts new beams to rebuild the roof in a house affected by Hurricane Matthew in Damassins, Haiti, October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

  by Jesselyn Cook | The Huffington Post