As the third anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake passes, many are questioning the progress that has been made with billions of international aid. With so much money and goodwill, why do 350,000 people continue to live in makeshift tents with poor sanitation and little to eat? What has become of the promise to “build back better”?
The news stories over the past few days are heart wrenching, and paint a picture of misused resources and donor fatigue that threaten to leave Haitians no better off than before the earthquake. The criticism is understandable given the lofty goals set and our expectations of what could be accomplished. And the criticism is justified – after three years and with that much money, there should be far more tangible progress in the form of housing, schools, and improved infrastructure.
But such assessments tend to shortchange the value of a greater tragedy avoided. The 2010 earthquake killed 200,000 people, made 1.5 million more homeless, and left the capital strewn with rubble. It was among the top five deadliest in recorded history, and without the international community’s help and donations pouring in from around the world, it could have been the deadliest. A much greater tragedy was avoided.
It must also be said – and we should constantly remind ourselves – that international development is hard work. It is challenging anywhere in the world, and Haiti can be a particularly difficult place to implement projects with lasting impact. Over the past year, Prosperity Candle has met with government officials, international NGOs and aid groups, businesses, faith-based missions, and local organizations. We’ve spoken with Haitians, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, local leaders and senior members of Hillary Clinton’s staff. Everyone wants more progress. Everyone is trying to figure out how to build back better. It’s hard work.
A recent article in the Economist entitled “Still waiting for recovery” describes Haiti as the Republic of NGOs that has become the country of the unemployed. In many ways this is true, though unemployment was high before the earthquake as well. What is now needed most, says Haitian president Michel Martelly, is jobs. The opportunity to earn a living wage so that a family can live in a decent home, put food on the table, and pay for schooling and healthcare.
That is what Prosperity Candle is going there to do. We focus on supporting women entrepreneurs, but what Haiti needs most right now is opportunity for everyone. As Belo, Haiti’s most popular musician, said on a recent visit to our town, charity is helpful and appreciated, but opportunity is what will create the change we all seek.