Eight years ago today, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck just west of Haiti’s capital, Port Au Prince. Twelve days and 52 aftershocks later, an estimated 160,000 people were dead. Although there have been stronger earthquakes that have had much lower casualty reports, a history of national debt, corruption, and poor infrastructure contributed to the unstable housing conditions that made the quake so deadly. In fact, the Haitian government estimated that over 280,000 houses and buildings were reduced to rubble. Lives, friends, family, homes, and futures were all lost under the dust, struck down by the terrible power of nature. With so much damage inflicted on an already struggling nation, Haiti was forced to call for help from the international community.
Although many countries responded, major damage to communication, energy, and transport facilities severely hampered recovery efforts and greatly limited the scope of actions taken. In a country with a shaky infrastructure and a history of earthquakes, Haiti already possessed an underdeveloped network of roads and circuits. Recovery efforts were always an uphill battle, but once the headlines and help faded, Haiti was left to pick up the pieces itself. Corruption and poor transport channels delayed aid distribution, leading to widespread looting and riots. Just 2 weeks after the initial quake, the United Nations called off emergency relief efforts. In this vacuum, Wisconsin Microfinance was born. Seeing a need in helping people return to their lives, businesses, and homes, a group of concerned Madison Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, small business owners, and University faculty decided to create a microloan fund in Haiti. Since then, Wisconsin Microfinance has expanded the program and assisted dozens of Haitians in their quest to return to normalcy.
Because Haiti has no building codes, most of the structures in the vicinity of the quake were severely damaged. As a result, many people began sleeping in the streets or shantytowns, devoid of infrastructure and sanitation channels. An estimated two million Haitians, having nowhere to go, squatted in informal structures wherever they could be constructed, usually without access to proper sanitation or clean water. One example of these post-earthquake housing conditions is on display in one of the programs Wisconsin Microfinance began last year, Mozayik. Mozayik is a settlement made up of families trying to rebuild their homes and communities, which, like many other similar impromptu towns that popped up after the quake, is in the process of being shut down by the government. For the past four months, Wisconsin Microfinance has been raising money to help them purchase a new plot of land, an endeavor that can be read about here (http://wisconsinfinance.org/a-spotlight-on-mozayik/). With the aim of removing shantytowns and creating permanent housing, the Haitian military has been going around and forcefully removing the squatters, often resorting to violence and arson to drag the settlers off the land. For people who have had everything already taken away from them once, this brutal process is another added trauma in the lives of the affected.
This November, the Trump administration rescinded the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haitians who fled to the US following the 2010 earthquake. By July 2019, the almost 60,000 Haitians who fit this description will have to return to Haiti or find another way to apply to live in the United States. The administration stated that Haiti was in a perfectly fine condition, which could not be further from the truth. According to a United Nations report, 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid. Sadly, Haiti’s efforts to rebuild have been plagued with additional famine, disease outbreaks, extended droughts, corruption, and natural disasters including Hurricanes Matthew, Sandy and Irma. Rural and agricultural areas, the backbone of the island nation, have suffered greatly. With 80% of rural housing, as well as surrounding schools and hospitals, rendered unsafe by the quake, infrastructure and irrigation channels have yet to recover. With water and healthcare systems severely damaged, Haiti was decimated by a massive cholera outbreak that killed around 6% of the population. For scale, if the US had a pandemic of the same size, that 6% would translate into 20 million lives.
With thousands of Haitians being forced to return to the nation from the Dominican Republic and the United States, Haiti’s already beleaguered agriculture sector will be pushed to its limit, as many returnees will find that their jobs and farms no longer exist. However, recently elected President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse plans to expand the industry with the growth of bio-ecological agriculture and ecotourism, as well as implementing other reforms like universal healthcare and education. Although there were many, many question marks on the validity of his election, Haiti is still on the road to recovery, not because of a single man in office, but because of the resiliency of the people. Haiti will recover: Because adversity breeds strength, and the Haitian people are as strong as they come.