Haiti Post-Quake: The Past Ten Months and Counting

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was ravaged by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake that extensively damaged the country's main city of Port-au-Prince. By January 24, over 52 aftershocks were recorded that measured at least 4.5. Ten months ago exactly, on January 20, the New York Times published Aftershocks, by √Čvelyne Trouillot sharing those first days post-quake.

The family has set up camp in my brother’s house. I live just next door, but it makes us feel better to be all in the same house. My brother, a novelist, is writing his articles; I am writing mine. From time to time a tremor will make us pause and run back outside, just in case, to be safe. I wonder how long we will have to be so cautious, and I long for normalcy.

We sleep; we listen to the radio; we exchange information. Mostly, we have been trying to stay alive and sane since that Tuesday afternoon a week ago when the earthquake changed our lives forever. It doesn’t help that the earth continues to convulse. Just this morning, we felt another tremor, the most violent since the earthquake itself. Let us hope it did not cause more deaths and damage.

In an already impoverished country, the level of displacement due to this cataclysmic environmental disaster escalated to epidemic proportions. With 230,000 deaths at least, 300,000 injured, and 7.8 billion dollars in damages, in August Her Blueprint published Haiti: Displacement, TB, and Progress?, which cited over 1.2 million people were living in tent cities and that safety and health concerns for women and children were fast-becoming a highly relevant issue post-earthquake. Although √Čvelyne Trouillot's eloquent Aftershocks calls in vain hope for the short-term aftershocks themselves to not bring more death and damage, what kind of long-term aftershocks are the country facing and what kind of strategies are evolving to protect the most vulnerable?

Six Months Post-Quake

Recently, I spoke with Joanne Blakemore who arrived to Port-au-Prince, Haiti on June 12, the quake's six month anniversary. With a background in third-world travel, humanitarian causes, and relief work, Joanne had done Katrina hurricane relief work as well in Mississippi.

"I was in Haiti pre-hurricane season. Commercial enterprise seemed to be functioning. Children seemed not to be starving. But, I thought it made Biloxi, Mississippi [post-Katrina] look like West Chester. The tents these women and children are living in are miniscule. You can’t stand up in them."

Outright distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and health and safety concerns was the tone coming out of the camps when Ms. Blog broke the story along with AWID of MADRE's report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women's Fight Against Rape, and its findings regarding rape in the tent cities.

"Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, we see a continued crisis of safety and security in the displacement camps that has exacerbated the already grave problem of sexual violence. We found that women are being raped at an alarming rate-every day-in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Government, the UN, and others in the international community have failed to adequately address the situation. Women, especially poor women, have been excluded from full participation and leadership in the relief effort."

Enter acknowledgment of one of the biggest challenges of Haiti along with eviction, education, and myriad health concerns: the safety of women and children.

Nine Months Post-Quake

In September, the tent cities were still just as large as ever with around 1 million people displaced, and the weariness of those contained within them were again being expressed by major news outlets as were the overt safety concerns for women and children. On September 19, the New York Times published Haitians Cry in Letters: ‘Please — Do Something!’. The title of the article is culled from a direct quote from Ms. Saint Hilaire, 33, who shared in a letter posted to the boxes put up by the International Organization for Migration, about how she and her children are "stranded in a camp annex without a school, a health clinic, a marketplace or any activity at all."

"Please — do something!" she wrote from Tent J2, Block 7, Sector 3, her new address. "We don’t want to die of hunger and also we want to send our children to school. I give glory to God that I am still alive — but I would like to stay that way!"

Ten Months Post-Quake and Counting

On October 7, 2010, Bloomberg published Haiti Earthquake Camps Expose Women to Sex Violence, which cites that as a country Haiti had significant problems with sexual violence pre-quake, but that post-quake the numbers are staggering. “Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living,” the Refugees International report said. The humanitarian response to the earthquake “appears paralyzed.”

In fact, the title of the Refugees International October 6 report, Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase, shares the exact issue at hand: long-term strategies are not taking shape or evolution. The report explains in detail how "enhancing proper leadership, enhancing the security for displaced women, improving camp management, bridging the communication gap, and decentralizing resources to promote recovery" are integral to moving past the emergency phase into effective long-term strategies for the country's recovery.

Photo credit: Ms. Magazine Blog