- Purav Menon
How Well Has Haiti Recovered From Its Earthquake?
Even before being struck by a devastating earthquake on January 12th, 2010, Haiti was already the poorest country in the entirety of the Western Hemisphere. Copious amounts of historical foreign debt and autocratic regimes meant the country was plagued with political instability throughout most of the 20th century, particularly under the Duvalier dynasty between 1956 and 1968, which was characterised by state-sanctioned violence, corruption, and economic stagnation, coupled with numerous natural disasters and coups.
The 2010 earthquake was catastrophic, killing between 160,000 to 316,000 people, and an estimated 300,000 buildings across the country were destroyed. The death toll from the disaster was only exacerbated by Haiti’s economic history, as well as the subsequent cholera outbreak. The quake also effectively destroyed what was left of the economy; the country’s GDP fell 8%, (from US$12.2 billion to $11.2 billion), and one in five jobs were lost. The country’s economy largely depended on agriculture and trade, especially with the US, as well as tourism; the earthquake’s damaging effects caused all of these to reduce drastically
Though massive amounts of foreign aid were pledged to help Haiti’s recovery following the earthquakes, things were still not going well six months later. A CNN report reported that “it looks like the quake happened yesterday”. One year after the quake, a damning Oxfam report attributed relief and recovery is at a standstill due to government inaction and indecision, and that less than half of pledged humanitarian aid money was actually being funnelled into helping the country. Through these years, Haiti continued to be pounded with hurricane after flood after drought.
Even 10 years on, there are parts across Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince which still have not been rebuilt, for example, the National Palace. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse publicly acknowledged in January 2020 how little Haiti had moved forward, saying "Ten years on, we still lack the basic infrastructure and services to support the people of our country."
Economically, the past six years have seen a staggering increase in the rate of Haitian inflation, from 3.94% in 2014 to 22.4% in 2020, according to a study from World Bank, and fuel shortages have inhibited the country’s industry. In addition to this, the past two years have seen Haiti in a political crisis over dissatisfaction with the government and its failure to deal with widespread corruption. Protests were sparked by a large hike in fuel prices, and an official report showing that past administrations had wasted millions of dollars that had been allocated to crucial infrastructure projects; in some cases, this meant paying for new roads and buildings that went unbuilt.
It is clear that in 2020 the recovery project for Haiti does not command anywhere near the same interest that it did in 2010, a drop in compassion that is measurable: in 2019, a United Nations plan for humanitarian aid to Haiti only raised a third of the funding it needed. The UN predicted in January 2020 that, by March, forty percent of Haitians would face food insecurity, and that for at least 1 in 10 Haitians, food insecurity would reach "emergency levels." Haiti was also named one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The position that Haiti is in has led to mass amounts of emigration, especially to America. It is clear that another earthquake would be completely damaging to every aspect of the country.
However, there are some positives in the ten-year post-earthquake period to be noted. Haiti’s GDP has been increasing in recent years. The country’s medical system also widened in the long-term aftermath. This no doubt helped their Covid-19 response earlier this year, which was remarkably effective, resulting in only 232 deaths for a population of 11 million. UNICEF reported that no new cholera cases were reported since February 2019.
Though silver linings are to be observed, it is clear that Haiti still has a long way to go. The government’s coronavirus response is likely to have won over some critics, but public sentiment in the country is still firmly against the government. The next steps for the government are to learn from the mistakes made in 2010 and fully recover the country, which means attempting to eliminate corruption, rebuild infrastructure, and prepare the country for another natural disaster, which would massively cripple it. But this is no easy task, and it remains to be seen how Moïse handles this in the next few years.