Haiti to commemorate deadly quake in anger and bitterness


Port-au-Prince (AFP)

Haiti on Sunday will remember the thousands who died in the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, as grief mixes with anger and bitterness over failed reconstruction efforts and continuing political instability.

Over 35 agonizingly long seconds, a magnitude-7 quake transformed capital city Port-au-Prince and the nearby cities of Gressier, Leogane and Jacmel into dusty ruins, killing more than 200,000 and injuring some 300,000 others.

More than a million and a half Haitians were left homeless, leaving island authorities and the international humanitarian community with a colossal challenge in a country lacking either a land registry or building rules.

"It's a lost decade, totally lost," Haitian economist Kesner Pharel told AFP.

"The capital has not been rebuilt, but our poor governance is not the exclusive responsibility of the local authorities; at the international level we have not seen a mechanism for managing aid that would allow the country to benefit."

The billions of dollars promised by international donors in the weeks after the catastrophe seem to have vanished with little to show for them, fueling the bitterness of survivors who live today exposed to the same dangers as existed before the quake.

- 'Back to Square One' -

"Ten years later, we see an even greater concentration of people in the metropolitan area," Pharel said. "If we were to have a quake of the same magnitude, the results would be the same, for there was no follow-up on most of the rebuilt homes.

"The country was never rebuilt, and we're back to Square One."

The quake destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, as well as administrative buildings and schools, not to mention 60 percent of Haiti's health-care system.

A decade later, the rebuilding of the country's main hospital remains incomplete, and non-governmental organizations struggle to make up for the state's many deficiencies.

"After the quake, we saw a big influx of trauma cases because there was an enormous number of injuries. What we see today is that we had to reopen a trauma center but the injuries are not of the same origin -- unfortunately, more than 50 percent of the injured we see now are gunshot victims," said Sandra Lamarque, chief of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

- Gripped by protest -

While failing to manage its physical reconstruction, Haiti has been gripped by a severe socio-political crisis that has partly overshadowed efforts at properly mourning the dead.

In the summer of 2018, corruption scandals implicating current President Jovenel Moise and every post-quake government provoked a sharp backlash, mobilizing young protesters -- more than half the country is younger than 30 -- who live with little prospect for employment in a country marked by growing insecurity amid frequent clashes between armed gangs.

Anti-government demonstrations spread to cities across the country, paralyzing daily life from September to December of last year.

The state's weaknesses, on display for the world to see after the earthquake, have only grown worse: National Assembly elections due in November were simply not held, meaning the mandate of the lower chamber expires Monday.

With no functioning legislature, President Moise, who is reviled not only by his political opponents but by a large part of the civilian population, will now have the ability to govern by decree.