Haiti struggles with poverty, famine 3 years after earthquake

Posted at 8:18 AM, Jan 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-13 09:41:13-05

(WTVR) -  Three years after Haiti was devastated by a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake, a lot of work remains to be done as residents try to pick up the pieces while the government and international community struggle to answer pressing housing, health and food needs in the impoverished country.

Hundreds of thousands remain in precarious tent cities, a staggering figure albeit a far cry from the 1.5 million left homeless immediately following the January 12, 2010 earthquake that additionally killed about 300,000 people.

The aftermath of the disaster drew the world's attention and an outpouring of donations quickly poured in with Bill Clinton, Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie among the famous names that helped raise $16.3 billion dollars by some estimates.

But today, the Secretary General of this tent city, Jean Renes Baselais, told Reuters his community is largely on its own.

"We live here as we go. No government authority assists us. We've been here for three years, not even the mayor has visited once," Baselais said.

Though international aid groups admit there is still much to be done, they also point to what has been accomplished over the past three years.

United Nations humanitarian representative Ramiz Urkhan Alakbarov says the recovery effort has managed to house hundreds of thousands of victims allowing Haiti to close hundreds of often unsafe, unsanitary tent cities.

"Well immediately after the earthquake we had more than 2 million people who needed shelter and housing. About 700,000 of them found it immediately with their families and were able to cope. However, 1.5 million people in the year 2010 were in 1,555 camps. Seventy percent of those have now been relocated and solutions have been found for them. That means that today we have slightly over 360,000 people, 363,000 I believe, living in 496 camps," Alakbarov said.

Following the string of disasters that stung Haiti last year, food shortages and rising food prices has become increasingly urgent.

The director of the United Nations World Food Programme in Haiti, Myrta Kaulard, told Reuters the initial influx of funds helped the organization deal with the immediate crisis in 2010.

"There was a lot of international support to Haiti right after the earthquake. And this is also what helped the World Food Programme in setting up very, very quickly a very large scheme to support the urban population that had been affected by the earthquake and at that time the port of Haiti had been damaged. Now Haiti depends fifty percent on imports of food. And more than half of those imports come from the port of Port-au-Prince. So, having that port affected means really having a big risk of having a famine in the country," Kaulard said.

However, Kaulard said the years following have brought their own set of predicaments which were only heightened by a crippling drought followed by severe flooding as a result of the tropical storms that struck the island late last year.

"Now, the situation three years after is completely reversed. In 2012 Haiti faced a very big drought and faced Tropical Storm Isaac and Cyclone Sandy. This has completely devastated the agricultural production of Haiti. The main harvest was totally lost and 109 communes out of 140 are affected," added Kaulard.

The U.N. estimates that more than 40 percent of Haiti's harvest was destroyed with about $254 million dollars in incurred losses.

About 60 percent of Haiti's population live in rural areas and some estimates say more than half of those are now at risk of acute food insecurity.

Eunice Eliassaint is a single mother of seven children. She told Reuters everyday is a struggle as she tries to feed her young children who sometimes have to go bed hungry.

"I don't see a future here. I can't hide anything from you. There is no tomorrow. Last night, the children went to bed without anything to eat," Eliassaint said.

Eliassaint's struggles are not unique here where, three years after the initial impact, the quake has left in its wake a myriad of concerns..

As many struggle with the day to day, they hope 2013 will bring much needed solutions.