Last week, an Argentine entrepreneur announced he would be building a 33 million dollar business hotel in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The project will be the first large investment in the hospitality sector since the earthquake in January which killed around 300,000 people. The hotel will be situated near the airport and is expected to accommodate the growing numbers of businessmen and officials involved in the reconstruction efforts.
When more than 1.3 million earthquake survivors are still living in tents, it seems rather obscene for investors to be worrying about international visitors to Haiti. But at least projects like the hotel bring much-needed work to Haiti’s shattered economy. Eight months following the disaster, progress in rebuilding has been slow.
But as a spokesperson at the World Bank points out, the level of destruction in Haiti is “one of the worst situations that the world has faced”. Pamela Cox, the vice president of the Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean, likened the rebuilding to the task facing people after the Second World War. Whole areas of Port-au-Prince lie under rubble. And the housing and resettling of more than a million people is a complex task, which requires organisation and informed decision-making to build a better Haiti. If this is the goal, there are design, logistical and social challenges to be solved, as well as questions over the legal ownership of land.
Although removing debris and building new housing are the key priorities, it is these kinds of challenges which cannot be fixed quickly, though Ms Cox conceded everyone wants to have “a magic wand”. But it is likely that many of the homeless will still be living in the camps next year. Here a number of international aid organisations are still active and camp occupants have access to food and medical services.
Some Haitians may even have better support and conditions than they had before the earthquake, when many lived in poor shanty homes on the hillsides above Port-au-Prince. Certainly agencies are reporting many cases where they are helping citizens who were suffering before the earthquake. This is particularly true for organisations treating the disabled. Some Haitians with pre-existing disabilities, such as amputees, now identify themselves as quake victims in order to access the health care provided by international agencies. Before the quake, only 5 percent of disabled Haitians had access to the services they needed. So as well as dealing with the 3000-4000 amputees from the quake (some unofficial estimates put the number far higher at closer to 10,000), aid organisations are often treating some of the 800,000 people who were already disabled. But as one aid worker put it “Who cares how they lost their limbs?”
The Women’s Refugee Commission, who sent a team to Haiti which specialises in helping those with disabilities, has warned there is still much work to do. Their team found one mother of three, Loufin, who was not given any help in learning how to use a new prosthetic leg. Therefore Loufin was still relying on a wheelchair and having to use a bucket as a toilet, because her daughters cannot push it along the gravel paths of the camp to the facilities provided. And nine-year old Mara was given a prosthesis too large for her, making walking extremely difficult. But the agency is hoping that with the higher profile of disabled people following the quake, more will be done to help amputees and those with physical disabilities. They would like to see a future where with proper rehabilitation and the teaching of new skills, disabled Haitians are at the forefront of rebuilding their society.