Michael Swan

Catholic groups condemn reconstruction failure 10 years after Haiti's killer quake

By 
  • January 20, 2020

Catholic organizations and their allies in Haitian civil society are condemning their own government and the international community on the 10th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that left the country in ruins. 

After a brief spasm of sympathy a decade ago, the world has forgotten its promise to rebuild the Caribbean nation, according to Haiti’s bishops, its Jesuit priests and a coalition of Church-affiliated non-governmental organizations. 

“During this decade there has been too much collective forgetfulness…. The memory of our dead was unfortunately faced with the test of forgetting,” said a statement issued by the justice and peace commission of Haiti’s bishops’ conference along with four Haitian NGOs.

The joint letter accuses the international community and the Haitian government of failing Haitians.

“Aid co-ordination and humanitarian response was done without the Haitian authorities. The weakness of the state also made it incapable of directing and leading reconstruction efforts,” they said.

The Haitian bishops and their NGO allies however did find one glint of hope in reconstruction projects that followed a partnership model employed by Development and Peace.

“The rare successful projects identified in the post-earthquake period have almost all been supported by international solidarity co-operation. All these projects were based on a partnership marked by trust, mutual respect and built for many years between northern and local actors,” said the joint statement.

Paired with their long-standing Haitian partner, the Institute of Technology and Animation (ITECA), the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has built 400 new, earthquake-resistant homes in Gressier, an hour’s drive west of Port Au Prince. Local community members were employed to build the houses and the community chose families most in need to live in them, said Development and Peace spokesperson Minaz Kerawala.

Over the past decade Development and Peace directed more than $31 million to humanitarian aid and development projects in Haiti. The 79 community development projects and 89 humanitarian aid projects were led and co-ordinated by 41 Development and Peace partners, eight of which are still partnered with the Canadian Catholic agency.

Haiti’s Jesuit priests are also demanding that the world remembers what happened to the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation 10 years ago.

“I was very surprised to see that it seemed that the earthquake is being forgotten,” Jesuit superior Fr. Jean-Denis Saint-Felix told The Catholic Register.

The Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake lasted 53 seconds, killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless and caused more than $14 billion in damage to buildings and infrastructure. In the immediate aftermath there was a cholera outbreak and 10 years later cases are still cropping up.

Roads and sewers are still not repaired, and major public buildings from Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral to the presidential palace are still in ruins. Saint-Felix blames politicians and the international community.

“There’s no question about it, they’re bad. They’re corrupt (Haiti’s politicians),” Saint-Felix said. 

“But also, this kind of people — they’re in power because the international community wants them to be there. The complicity of the international community, we have to look at that also.”

Saint-Felix, speaking for Haiti’s 34 Jesuit priests and brothers, issued a stinging letter of condemnation on the Jan. 12 anniversary, lashing out at Haiti’s political class and the international community for their failure to rebuild Haiti, despite more than $16 billion in aid pledged in the aftermath. The letter says “the population is living in desolation and despair,” the middle class has been “completely impoverished” and Haiti today has only the poor and the rich. 

“Little infrastructure has actually been rebuilt and most of the work that has been started is still in progress or has been stopped altogether,” the Jesuits charged. “Some public buildings have, curiously enough, remained in total oblivion.”

The letter decries the lack of a major housing program and says “people continue to build in total anarchy.”

“There are still large numbers of homeless people and new slums have sprung up in and around Port-au-Prince.”

The letter laments a “staggering” gulf between optimistic predictions of reconstruction and actual achievements over the past 10 years.

“Public funds are being squandered and misappropriated. International aid is misdirected. Suspicions and corruption scandals are killing any hope Haitians have of a better future. The permanence of the emergency and the mismanagement of the aftermath of the earthquake have led the country to other earthquakes of even greater magnitude: social, political, economic and ecological earthquakes.”

The letter ends by calling for a “societal change” based on an “ethical requirement” that sees political and other civic leaders “orient their actions towards the interests of the community.”

Haiti’s Jesuits are formally part of the Canadian province of the Catholic Church’s largest religious order of priests. The letter goes out with the full support of Canada’s Jesuits, said the Jesuit communications director José Sanchez.

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