Not much has changed for people on the ground years after 7.0-magnitude earthquake stuck Haiti's capital
However, not much has changed for people on the ground. Financial assistance is not reaching the people who need it the most, and much of that is blamed on corruption and political turmoil. It has caused many people to take to the streets calling for government accountability. Some are even calling on President Michel Martelly to step down.
Haiti was already classified as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, but an additional $7.8 billion in damages utterly devastated the nation’s economy.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment, “The Week Ahead,” Thomas Drayton spoke to Ulysse Toussaint, a documentary filmmaker from Haiti; Marc Levy, based at Columbia University, where he is deputy director of the Center for the International Earth Science Information Network; and Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, who joined the discussion from Port-au-Prince.
Toussaint says the earthquake collapsed all government buildings, along with hospitals, schools, and homes.
“It was unprecedented. It wasn’t something people had been preparing for,” says Levy. “But after the initial shock, people started looking for the most appropriate response.”
Elizondo says that there has been progress. The number of homeless people has fallen to about 70,000 from more than a million, and most of the tent shelters are now gone. People can enroll in a program that houses people rent-free for the first year. He says, however, that many people are still suffering and that poverty is still very high, with a 40 percent unemployment rate.
Levy says he would refer to Haiti as a fragile state rather than a failed state. “It has many challenges and a history of recurring crises, but it still has a lot of potential, talent, and ambition.”
Toussaint explains that having two different types of governments — one in the capital and one in the countryside — makes it difficult for either to have a presence across the entire country. He said that Haiti, in many ways, is still a French colony, despite having won its independence two centuries ago, and that the government in Port-au-Prince is controlled by Paris. He says most people fled the capital after the earthquake to the countryside, and the government there tends to be more cooperative with the people.
Toussaint adds that elections in Haiti are financed by external forces, such as France, Canada, and the United States, and the outcome often depends on who sponsors the vote.
Levy adds the earthquake itself was a kind of stress test that everyone failed, including the donors, the government, and the civic organizations within the country. “The success comes not just through rebuilding structures, but through building trust.”
A trust that Toussaint says is lacking because the people on the ground haven’t seen the aid and financial assistance that they were told was sent to them.