Haiti: Five Years But Disappointing Recovery From 2010 Earthquake

October 11, 2016

As the fifth anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude Haitian earthquake passed on January 12th, one would hope to see substantial recovery with new infrastructure, improved health conditions and more efficient governance. As a country of only 10 million, nearly 1.5 million or 15% of Haitians were displaced and homeless after the rubble settled five years ago. Today, that number has fallen nearly 94% to a little below 80,000.1 Nonetheless, over six million live beneath the national poverty line with under $USD 2.50 per day.2 The cholera epidemic, suggested to have been brought to Haiti by UN peacekeepers, has triggered further devastation, killing thousands.3

Serafin Jean Rose, 33 of Coralia, Haiti told his story to NBC News. “After my home was destroyed, I was moved to one of the tent camps. A year ago, we were given enough money to move out and build a tin house. I work as a carpenter and have been able to feed my family of four.” He qualified his tale, “I’m one of the lucky ones.”4 Those that remain in hillside tent slums live in wooden or tin homes with no running water, electricity or sanitation system. Many ventures projected to be financed by international funds have been scaled back or scrapped entirely.4

The highly anticipated, $82.3 million, 534-bed hospital of the State University of Haiti is still two years away from reconstruction, assumed complete by February or March of 2017. More than 50 hospitals and clinics were destroyed in the quake.5 The Miami Herald interviewed several local hospital directors, who reported an average of 2,000 patients waiting to be treated each morning.5 Outpatient clinics are particularly crowded and underfinanced. Patients are usually required to buy their own medicines while underpaid and overworked doctors and nurses routinely go on strike.5 The health sector is not only desperate for new building projects, but also permanent financing.

Backed by more than 50 countries, the United Nations has pledged over $USD13 billion in debt relief and humanitarian assistance since 2010 to promote Haiti’s recovery from this historic natural disaster that killed more than 300,000.1 Of the $13 billion said to disbursed through 2020, less than half of the proposed aid has been obligated. Donors are shirking on promised development projects that Haiti desperately needed to implement in the first five years of restoration.4 “You have donors disburse money, but that doesn’t mean all of the money is spent on the ground,” explains Jake Johnston of the Center of Economic and Policy Research.4 The Haitian government has instead relied on public capital and discounted Venezuelan oil to fund the rebuilding of many government buildings that were destroyed.1 Scarce government resources have been used to invest in tourism, mining, industrial construction and agriculture with the overarching goal to help increase quality of life for all social strata.3 However, many of these have led to further displacement of locals and foreign contracts instead of Haitian private sector projects. 

Although many indispensable social programs have been subsidized through international aid, sustainable development through legal reform and competitive business formation has yet to be seen on a large scale. Former US President Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister co-chair the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, created with the goal to help Haiti “build back better,” but local economists admit the country has barely improved on these fronts. Gregory Brandt of the Economic Forum explained, “The country is better off in one aspect, security. But it’s fragile because hunger, poverty, job creation and decentralization still haven’t been addressed.”1 There have been successes, but if the expectation was to build back better and transform Haiti’s public sector, Johnston of CEPR contests that by any measure, it has failed.4

The international community posed plans to decongest the capital of Port-au-Price, boosting long-term employment and creating permanent housing outside the city. Efforts to build “suburban” communities have otherwise created post-quake slums, where vacant land has yet to be translated into constructed residences.1 Few of these construction projects were actually carried out; most of them were contracted by Dominican firms that were paid over $200 million and chose to import their own workers instead of hiring locally.1 This has proven a fundamental issue in the rebuilding process--Haitian firms have struggled to receive direct funding. Foreign contracting has been condemned to promote inefficiency, lack accountability, and reveal  deficient transparency. The flaws of the housing plan are evident. The original venture described 15,000 houses and was then cut down to 2,649 due to “skyrocketed costs”. Only 900 have been built thus far.4 This year, USAID has pledged to put 17% of the US donated aid in local, Haitian hands.4

 The US has alone pledged $2.7 billion long term assistance, but many American politicians opposed to the aid are skeptical any real change will come by it.1 In a commemoration address, Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Haiti to require greater political stability in order to enable economic opportunity and poverty reduction.1 President Michel Martelly and the Haitian legislature have been at odds since 2011 when Martelly called for a legislative election to vote on the majority of the Senate seats, angering his four opposition parties.2 On Sunday the 11th, Haitian politicians were scrambling to vote to approve a four-month extension of the lower Chamber of Deputies whose terms were to expire at midnight. President Michel Martelly announced he would prolong the terms if it were approved as an amendment by parliament, but if not, he will rule by decree before leaving office next year.1

In an article to the Washington Post, Haitian Nixon Boumba explains his frustrations and described his future outlook; “The world’s attitude toward Haiti and my own government’s attitude toward its people must radically shift… If Haiti fails to ensure that development benefits its people—something the government might be likelier to do with international oversight that the act promises to provide—then the earthquake will have meant not only a natural disaster, but also a radical redistribution of assets from the poor and vulnerable to the rich and powerful.”3



1) Charles, Jacqueline. “Rebuiling Haiti: still a work in progress.” Miami Herald. Available at:http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article6031617.html

2) AP. “Somber Gatherings Mark 5th Anniversary of Haiti Earthquake.” New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/01/12/world/americas/ap-cb-haiti-earthquake-anniversary.html?ref=world&_r=0

3) Boumba, Nixon. “It’s been five years since Haiti’s earthquake. And the ‘redevelopment’ hasn’t been about helping Haitians.” Washington Post. Available at:http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/01/12/its-been-five-years-since-haitis-earthquake-and-the-redevelopment-hasnt-been-about-helping-haitians/

4) Connor, Tracy, Hannah Rappleye and Erika Angulo. “What does Haiti have to show for $13 billion in earthquake aid?” NBC News. Available at:http://www.nbcnews.com/news/investigations/what-does-haiti-have-show-13-billion-earthquake-aid-n281661

5) Charles, Jacqueline. “Haiti’s new $83 million general hospital still not built.” Miami Herald. Available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article6006105.html

About Author(s)

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Danielle Scalise
Danielle Scalise is a senior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing degrees in Economics and Political Science, with a minor Spanish and certificate in Latin American Studies. She took part in the Pitt in Cuba program in the spring of 2013 and is currently an intern for Panoramas. Danielle is attending Georgetown Law in the fall where she will study international economic law pursuing a career specializing in US/Latin American trade relations.