by Sebastian Walker in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – July 18, 2010
Six months to the day since the earthquake, Edmond Mulet, the UN mission chief in Haiti, and assorted celebrities, politicians and NGO officials were at the presidential palace receiving medals for their role in the country’s recovery effort. On the same sweltering morning, Al Jazeera was in the Champ de Mars camp opposite the palace grounds.
It is a place where rape is so widespread that it frequently takes place in broad daylight, where gang members roam the narrow, stinking tented alleys with weapons, and where newly-orphaned street children fight over the odd piece of change handed out by aid workers stopping to take photographs in front of the ruined palace.
At the president’s medal ceremony, there was talk of hope and progress. There was some acknowledgement that more needed to be done, but this was quickly followed by reminders of the scale of the tragedy and of the achievements made over the past six months.
Prolonging the emergency
|Celebrities given medals for their role in the aid effort but Haitians see little progress [AFP]|
But in the camp nobody even knew the significance of the date, such is the day-to-day nature of existence for many here.
Joel Joseph arrived in Champ de Mars on the first night after the quake. He had just watched his house collapse with his young daughter inside.
He has not worked for months, but he speaks four languages, in a small, sad voice that gets louder when he is asked about the international aid effort.
Joel says the lack of obvious progress has convinced many Haitians of conspiracy theories: that NGOs are paying families to stay in camps to prolong the emergency and receive more funding; that reconstruction and rubble removal are on hold so the government can extract the maximum from international donors.
“Even this isn’t for us,” he says, pointing to food distribution by Brazilian peacekeepers just metres from where foreign media were gathered for the medal ceremony. “They haven’t done this here for months, why today? They pretend to help us, but the truth is we’re not receiving any help at all.”
Uneven aid effort
During my six months in Haiti, I have seen an aid effort proceed on an uneven course – from its problematic inception, to successes in disease prevention, and back to somewhere in between.
As Mulet and others freely admit, the sense of urgency has been lost here. That might sound hard to believe when there are more than 1.5 million living in squalid camps, exposed to the elements with extreme weather on the way, but it is true.
And for most Haitians, the failures of the aid effort are more obvious than its successes. The fact that in six months only 5,500 storm proof shelters have been built in the entire country, the huge rise in assaults on women in the camps, the rubble spilling out over every neighbourhood, a city which still looks much the same as it did in the days just after the quake ….
Perhaps it is a little early to be giving out medals?