The disaster of 12 January 2010: 5 years!

Port-au-Prince area of Haiti, January 2010.

Port-au-Prince area of Haiti, January 2010.

By Isabelle L. Papillon
Reprinted with permission from Haiti-Liberté, Jan. 14-20.

It was 4:43 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, when an earthquake of magnitude 7.3 struck Haiti for 35 seconds. This disaster, on a scale never seen before, caused a huge loss of life and significant property damage. According to statistics, more than 300,000 people were killed, thousands injured, between 1.3 million and 1.5 million people were thrown into the streets, homeless; 100,000 to 200,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, including 42 public buildings, 1,350 educational institutions and 50 hospitals.

The West and the South East are the two departments in which there was much loss and damage: 90 percent in Leogane, 40 percent in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas and 50 percent in Jacmel. The damage was estimated at 120 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic production and over $13 billion in total cost.

The government at that time and the occupation forces were overwhelmed; corpses littered the ground and some were rotting under the rubble, while the number of deaths remained still inestimable. Taking advantage of the absence of the state authorities, the major Western powers strengthened their guardianship of Haiti and conflicts broke out for control of the international airport, which ultimately was taken over by the United States of America.

In the days and months that followed this unparalleled disaster, thousands of nongovernmental organizations invaded the country. According to then Haitian prime minister, Jean Max Bellerive, before the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake there were 4,000 NGOs and this figure rose to 10,000 after the earthquake. The state had no real control over NGOs during the emergency phase. They acted as they saw fit. Millions of dollars were wasted and some people got rich at the expense of victims.

Recognizing this fact, the donors of international funds and the Haitian authorities agreed on the formation of a body to manage international aid during the country’s reconstruction. This organization, included in emergency legislation, was called the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (IHRC), co-led by  Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States — a major imperialist power — and the prime minister, Jean Max Bellerive. Despite the fact that the Haitian people had raised their voices against this wicked law creating this organization and the presence of a foreigner placed at the highest level of the IHRC, nothing was done.

The questions we ask five years after the earthquake are:

  • What is the situation of victims?
  • Where are the funds to rebuild the country?
  • Despite the creation of a centralized organization to disburse these funds, has Haiti missed the opportunity to rebuild the nation?

Five years after the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, more than 200,000 victims are still living in tents in several camps in Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel, in subhuman conditions, without water, without electricity, unemployed and under constant threat of forced eviction. The alleged owners of land opened in the quake use the repressive apparatus of state, namely the judiciary, the police, the executive agents and gunmen, to chase away IDPs [internally displaced people]. Hundreds of thousands of victims are scattered north of the capital in slums bearing names like Canaan, Coral, ONA City and Jerusalem, among others. In these IDP camps, people are plagued with the lack of security, rape and thievery.

Ten months after the earthquake hit, soldiers of the United Nations occupation forces (Minustah) introduced a cholera epidemic into the country, resulting in thousands of deaths added to earthquake victims.

As for the reconstruction of the country, following the disappearance of the IHRC after the arrogant Joseph Michel Martelly came to power in 2011, another international aid centralization body saw the light of day: the CAED (the French initials for the Coordination of External Aid for Development). Meanwhile, the Housing Construction Unit and Public Buildings (UCLBP) was established. A presidential decree declared that the plans for much of the shopping center at the bottom of the city were to be reviewed by Martelly’s arrogant team.

“The red-sheet metal pretense,” observed by perceptive people, has been denounced by the general public.  It involved erecting red sheet metal blocking major public sites on the Champs-de-Mars in order to bluff public opinion into believing that the reconstruction of these sites was about to start.

Frankly, after five years, there is some reconstruction beginning on the offices of the Directorate General of Taxes (DGI) on John Paul II Street, which will house the Ministry of Interior and decentralized administrative offices; there is also reconstruction at the spot where the Department of Trade and Industry was located on Champs-de-Mars and the repair of the old local Bank of Paris, at the bottom of Lalue, Film Triomphe in Capois Street.

The work on other premises has not yet begun. This is the case for  various public places, including the Carrefour of the Airport and Delmas. The amounts involved in the reconstruction were diverted by the administration of the arrogant Martelly and the leaders of the IHRC.  We can cite, by way of example, the $150 million for the reconstruction of the popular neighborhood of Fort National and other funds to be invested in five-star hotels on the hills of Petionville.

Besides the big cheese NGOs, the Dominican Republic is the largest recipient of reconstruction funds. This Jan. 12, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the commemoration of the earthquake, the social conditions of millions of victims have not improved. Hundreds of people have taken the streets to protest against this fact.

The government went to Saint-Christophe, north of the capital, where thousands of bodies were buried in mass graves, totally lacking in any dignity, to pay tribute to the victims, while survivors are still groaning in poverty, unemployment, lack of security and rape. Religious ceremonies were also organized in different churches and on the Champ-de-Mars in memory of the victims. While — on the eve of the fourth commemoration — IDPs continue to be victims of violent lawless bandits.

On Jan. 11, around 11:30 a.m., four people, including three girls, died following a fire that destroyed a camp for displaced people called “Kan Pèp pwogresis Deye Loj,” located in the municipality of Delmas, near the road to the international airport, at the entrance to the old runways northeast of Port-au-Prince.

Sabine Leon, a 3-year-old girl, was one of the victims of the disaster.  The other two dead girls, whose names have not yet been revealed, were between 3 and 4 years old. Louinord Mizaire, aged 38, died in hospital from severe burns, leaving three orphaned children.  This fire occurred on the eve of the fourth commemoration of the earthquake. Thirty others, including four children, were severely burned and transported to hospital.

All the tents and belongings of the 250 families living in the camp since Jan. 12, 2010, were swept away by the flames. When firefighters arrived, there was nothing left to save. The origin of the fire is unknown. But observers do not exclude the possibility of a criminal act.

On the other hand, the Collective of Organizations for the Defense of the Right to Housing held a peaceful march on Jan. 12 in Port-au-Prince  to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. This march started at the Champ-de-Mars, the main public square in the capital, and ended at a memorial in a cemetery located in Port-au-Prince, where a wreath was placed in memory of the victims of the disaster.

Demands for decent housing for the tens of thousands of displaced people have dominated the anniversary along with questions about the use of funds earmarked for reconstruction.

So five years after the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, the situation of victims has not changed. They are only moved from one place to another, still living in subhuman conditions. Reconstruction announced by the country’s leaders and the international community is still slow to become a reality. Hundreds of NGOs and big cheeses of the government continue to benefit to the detriment of the victims. Only the mobilization of the victims and the Haitian people in general will be able to change the living conditions of the people.

G. Dunkel translated the article to English.