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Forgotten Nation

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Ten months after the January 12 earthquake devastated Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, the Haitian people have all but been forgotten. The sensationalism and "now value" as a news item have long worn off as the international media has shifted its attention to more news worthy items across the world. The Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on Haiti have all been won and routine collective suffering is not the kind of thing that holds the attention of viewers. Haiti has quite literally been forgotten.

Millions of Haitians are still living in a state of emergency in conditions that are dehumanizing and degrading. Camp inhabitants are protesting against their living conditions and threats of evictions and objecting to the arbitrarily appointed or completely absent camp managers. Gangs and landowners are intimidating the displaced and desperate. Sexual, domestic, and gang violence in and around the camps is rising at an alarming rate.

The thing is that not much of anything in working. Former United States President Bill Clinton, tapped by President Barack Obama to oversee Haiti's reconstruction and redevelopment, recently complained about the sub-human conditions of Haitians living in large squalid conditions and expressed disappointment with the string of broken promises of the international community that promised much and delivered very little including the United States.

Clinton expressed frustration with the slow delivery of promised funds by donors who have delivered about $732 million of a promised $5.3 billion in funds for 2010-11, along with debt relief. Most notably absent is the United States, which has yet to deliver any of its promised $1.15 billion.

The stakes were made clear to the former U.S. president when he visited a storm-battered hillside former golf-course in Port-au-Prince that is now home to about 55,000 increasingly desperate Haitians, who told him that they need money, jobs, houses and education to get out of the dangerous and inhospitable camp where they are stuck. In short, they need an investment in dignity so they can re-enter the Haitian mainstream as productive, proud citizens.

Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living. As time goes on, landowners are increasingly threatening camp residents with eviction. Many evictions have already occurred, and with nowhere to go, these repeatedly displaced people are absorbed into existing camps or form new ones with no humanitarian assistance.

Problems of internal security, a weak and overwhelmed central government incapable of handling this humanitarian catastrophe and now distracted by the upcoming November national elections have compounded and aggravated this serious state of affairs. The United Nations mission on the ground, Haiti's flaccid government, and a lame-duck president has proven ineffective and inefficient in the management of 1,100 to 1,300 camps. These camps are now populated by earthquake-displaced people, pre-quake urban homeless, and slum-dwellers that have joined the camps.

Ten months after the earthquake there is no proper record of people living in the camps, a registration regime, a comprehensive profile and analysis or short and long term intentions and plans. Many camps are in dangerous and untenable conditions. Amidst the miserable conditions in the camps residents express increasing fears of being evicted with nowhere to go. So far15, 000 people have been evicted and 95,000 remain under serious threat of eviction. Even when there is no threat of evictions, many landowners refuse to allow any improvements to be made to the camps on their land, such as installation of lighting or better toilet facilities.

Compounding this very dangerous and explosive situation is the fact that landowners on whose lands squatter camps have sprung up have resorted to employing armed gangs to intimidate and threaten Haiti's internally displaced and homeless people to evacuate the lands. May "bandits" have started to attack residents nightly, threatening people with guns and machetes, and yelling at them to get out.

The United Nations security apparatus and what is left of the Haitian police are too overwhelmed by the situation to be of any help. Moreover, the Haitian police are part of the problem because many are now being paid by landlords, business people, and the Haitian elite to enforce eviction edits and bully hapless Haitians off squatter camps. Corruption, ever a feature of Haitian society, is today a chronic and rampant issue that only adds to an already very difficult social situation. Things have become so bad in the camps that the Haitian Government has declared that a state of emergency will last up to July 2011.

And as if this bleak situation was not grim enough the prognosis for the future is not at all bright despite optimism coming from the Haitian government. In fact, it is downright depressing. According to the Haitian government in its new Action Plan for reconstruction recovery from the ravages of this earthquake that killed approximately 330,000 people and left more than 1. 5 million homeless this will take at least 20 years.

"The period (10 years) during which the reconstruction and recovery of Haiti will become a reality, in order to put the country back on the road to development, followed by another 10 years to make it a real emerging country," the Action Plan states. Even before the earthquake most Haitians lived miserable existences. Their rates of disease were high because the country spends the least per capita on heath care in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti's education system was also inadequate. The economy, which was heavily dependent on remittances from the Haitian Diaspora, has been stagnant for years, and the country ranked 149th of 182 countries in the U.N.'s Human Development Index. Haiti's literacy rate is 39.2% and 22% of children under the age of 5 are underweight, according to the U.N.


The Inter-American Bank estimated in February 2010 that the cost to rebuild Haiti would be between $8 billion and $13.9 billion. A month later, the United Nations pegged the figure at $11.5 billion . Both those estimates, which were preliminary and based on the best information available amid a rapidly changing situation, were probably optimistic -- though it's impossible at this point to know by how much.

One of the major challenges right now is housing. The January 12 earthquake destroyed approximately 105,000 homes, plus 50 hospitals and health centers, the Presidential Palace, the main airport, parliament, law courts, and most ministerial and public administration buildings. Engineers are currently inspecting tens of thousands of buildings that are still standing to determine which ones are safe. Only 2% of the estimated 20 million tons of debris created by the earthquake has been removed.

Haiti may need more than 20 years and many generations removed to regain some semblance of normalcy.

 

MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
 

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