From bad to worse in Haiti one year later

An already impoverished nation was dealt yet another blow one year ago today when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged the Caribbean country of Haiti.

A year later, the country is still left struggling, the people left homeless and the children left hungry as Haitians struggle to rebuild.

Estimates are placed at a decade of when Haiti could conceivably be back to just where they were before the earthquake hit.

An outpouring of donations surfaced following the disaster, but today Blackville native Dr. Tiffany Keenan is wondering where the money has gone.

Keenan, in Blackville this past weekend and the founder of Haiti Village Health, was back to Haiti for today’s anniversary and says things went from bad to worse when a cholera outbreak struck in November.

Following the earthquake Keenan spent her time in Jacmel at the airport for disaster response and then a refugee camp. As of September operations moved to a medical clinic in the north.

“Just as we were trying to get things going again cholera struck,” she said.

That prompted a cholera treatment centre and from Nov. 20 there were full-time patients under 24-hour care. The outbreak is ongoing in the north but as of late last week Keenan said the numbers have decreased.

“It’s been a very busy year,” she said.

“One of my biggest problems, I guess, after the earthquake has been the response of the international community. There’s been a lot of talk about donations and money, especially when I hear about the Red Cross, how many millions or billions of dollars were given but it doesn’t seem to translate into action on the ground.”

Keenan said money given to NGOs fails to match with the amount of work being done on the ground and the north is struggling to get clean water but she hears of money toward water filtration systems.

“A lot of the small NGOs like myself, we’re basically scrambling to use all our dollars, again, to get directly to people that are on the ground,” she said.

“I think people are asking a lot more questions after this earthquake because it’s yet another disaster and we’re trying to see how the money is being used.”

Corruption within the country has been viewed as a source for lack of donations reaching the destination, but Keenan questions whether that money has even reached Haiti.

“It’s been a very difficult year emotionally. I think I probably came the closest to burnout in June and July of this year,” she said.

“From Jan. 12, from the earthquake, to June 1 my brain just didn’t stop, just constantly thinking about Haiti.”

“My life has been turned around, it will never be the same again,” she said.

Keenan said the work has forced her to “re-examine my priorities” but as a small NGO with little funding and less influence than others she eventually turned her focus to the community in the north where she services 25,000 people.

“Trying to take on other larger projects was just out of my realm. I just couldn’t take that. Personally I just didn’t have the time to dedicate, especially given the fact that I work full-time.”

In Haiti, the people are still struggling, living in “make-do shelters” to the point Keenan said it’s become a way of life, searching for handouts for food because of lack of work while others fight “intense grief” from loss of loved ones.

“If you start asking people, I’m sure you’ll run in to every second or third person that may have lost someone or were affected by someone who died in the earthquake,” she said.

“It definitely is detrimental when it kind of gets out of the public eye because, again, people like to follow the news and in many ways cholera … did bring Haiti back into the public eye and it made people once again question.”

Children’s advocate sees country

New Brunswick’s ombudsman and child and youth advocate Bernard Richard was heading home Monday, stopping off in Miami from Haiti, where he arrived Thursday with Plan Canada to see how the efforts of 170,000 donors and child sponsors have worked.

He visited camps where Haitians are still displaced and a shelter for street children who can be used as labourers or for prostitution.

“It’s quite a sight, for sure,” he said.

“Certainly, in terms of the immediate situation after the earthquake things are a lot better. The camps operate, they have committees, I met a number of camp residents that are kind of mini councils.”

In terms of victims, Richard said access to sewers and waters are available, as well as shelter.

“I think it stabilized but it’s hard to see any hard and fast evidence of reconstruction. They’ve moved from makeshift shelters to tents,” he said.

“There’s a lot to be done and the political uncertainty in Haiti is really not helping that.”

Political instability remains in Haiti, causing issues in access to land for schools, Richard said,

“I think there’s a concern now that many of these camps will end up being permanent communities, certainly for a significant amount of time. It is a concern for sure.”

The advocate said it’s looking like at least a decade will be necessary to bring Haiti where it was a year ago. Rubble remains in many areas and building have collapsed, killing people including youths.

It could be a number of years just to clean up, he said.

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