4 years later, life improves for Haitians affected by earthquake

Photo taken by American church members visiting Haiti on a mission trip in 2013.

DANIELLA GIBBONS/CONTRIBUTED

Photo taken by American church members visiting Haiti on a mission trip in 2013.

Four years after more than 200,000 people were killed by a catastrophic earthquake that rocked the Caribbean country of Haiti, cleanup continues.

The United Nations estimates about 3 percent of the debris still needs to be removed. About 145,000 people are living in makeshift camps, and most are near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

“Life is better than before the situation,” said Alejandro Pacheco, Head of the Unit of Poverty Reduction and Early Recovery for the United Nations Development Programme Haiti. “The government is not just trying to provide an answer to the earthquake but to long-term problems in Haiti.”

After the magnitude 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Jan. 12, 2010, an estimated 1.5 million people were living in internally displaced persons camps, or IDPs. The epicenter of the earthquake was about 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the largest city of Haiti.

Many of the people displaced to these camps have been able to move back into their neighborhoods with help from cash for work initiatives. Workers would participate in some sort of public work project and be paid cash in return, helping them purchase materials they need to rebuild.

“Living conditions in Haiti were very tough before the earthquake,” Pacheco said. “There were already very deep problems in terms of access to basic services; health services and housing.”

Before, Pacheco said, the poverty rate was at 70 percent and the housing deficit was between 500,000 to 700,000.

“The earthquake came and aggravated the situation,” he said.

A change in government brought additional complexities, according to Pacheco. There was a presidential election in November 2010, less than a year after the earthquake. Michel Martelly was elected in March 2012.

Ten million cubic meters of debris and rubble was left strewn throughout the streets of Haiti. With the majority of it having been cleaned up, new streets are now in place, which Pacheco said are in better shape than before the earthquake.

New streets and new buildings are not the only things new in Haiti after the earthquake. A national, government-maintained housing program has also been put into place.

Before the earthquake there was no public institution dedicated to housing issues. Now, the Unit of Construction of Public Buildings and Housing is helping to provide framework for housing reconstruction.

“The government has tried to set a path to seek answers for long term problems,” Pacheco said. The housing initiative is one of those, he said.

A ceremony organized by the government to observe the fourth anniversary of the deadly earthquake will take place in front of the presidential palace.

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