10 years after the Haiti earthquake and still on the brink of danger

10 years after the Haiti earthquake and still on the brink of danger

On Jan. 12, 2010, a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. It was one of the world’s most significant natural disasters on record and hit close to the densely populated capital city of Port-au-Prince. Never before had the world seen an earthquake of this magnitude strike an urban setting, and the impact was colossal. 

Two hundred thirty thousand people were killed, including a quarter of the country’s civil servants. A further 300,000 people were injured. In and around the city, buildings collapsed, leaving 1.5 million people homeless. 

I will never forget arriving into Port-au-Prince just after the earthquake struck. The destruction was everywhere. Dead bodies lay on the streets, and people wandered around. It was like a bomb had dropped on the city. 

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The world responded with urgency, compassion, and generosity. Billions of dollars were raised, and aid organizations implemented massive relief and recovery operations. While legitimate questions were raised about overall aid effectiveness and efficiency, there is no doubt that many lives were saved, and Haiti was significantly helped back on the road to recovery.

Haitians have extraordinary resilience, honed through struggle, and hardship. It was, after all, the first independent nation of Latin America and the only country in the world established following a successful slave revolt. 

It is this inherent fighting spirit that has enabled people to withstand enormous challenges thrown at them. But resilience is not inexhaustible, nor inevitable, and many more struggled enormously to survive. 

Ten years on from the earthquake, Haiti has regressed. The causes are multiple, but negligence and lack of attention are key drivers of the current crisis, one that is happening in virtual silence. 

We start 2020 with a country that is both highly vulnerable to climatic disaster and facing a massive — and massively underreported — hunger crisis. Data supplied in October by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) revealed that 3.67 million people need urgent food assistance. Inflation is close to 20 percent, and currency depreciation has been crippling for poor Haitian families.

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Not enough is being done and, even though Haiti is the region’s most vulnerable to climate change, it remains one of the least well prepared. Prevention is key. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 gave us a glimpse of what might happen, but lessons have not been learned.

Concern’s annual budget is a fraction of what it was in the post-earthquake period, and the total of donor investment is grossly insufficient. Last year, the UN appeal for Haiti was less than one-third funded by international donors making it among the most under-funded humanitarian crises in the world this ticking humanitarian time bomb has gone mostly unnoticed, and the lack of interest, action, and funding is shameful.

In 2010, the world responded to the crisis with speed and extraordinary generosity, but 10 years in this country is in no way adequately prepared for the next one. We can and should do so much more to protect the people of Haiti. 

Dominic MacSorley is the CEO of Concern Worldwide. He was among the first emergency responders to arrive in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. In the months that followed, he oversaw a significant operation to provide emergency supplies, shelter, water, sanitation, infrastructure and protection to tens of thousands of families.