Although the Haitian people are grateful for all that has been accomplished since the devastating earthquake shook Haiti 16 months ago, they need the generous aid and deep commitment to continue.
In a program hosted by Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti and St. Peter Claver Church, Jude Marie Banatte, a Haitian doctor who has been with Catholic Relief Services for 11 years, spoke about CRS activities following the earthquake and about the progress of long term reconstruction and recovery.
"Things are not moving fast in Haiti, said Dr. Banatte. "But they are moving fast enough, when we consider the challenges and the underlying conditions (that existed) before the disaster."
Dr. Banatte, who manages large CRS medical and health projects on Haiti’s southwestern coast, presented statistics to provide a context for considering the magnitude of achievements and to enhance understanding of why recovery in Haiti will require a long term effort. He also contrasted circumstances surrounding the earthquake in Haiti and subsequent quakes in Chile and Japan, where recovery seems to be moving at a faster pace.
Before the earthquake, the literacy rate in Haiti was just 52 percent, and half the population lived on less than $1 a day. The country had the highest infant mortality rate in the region, and there were only two doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants, he said.
Agricultural productivity was so low it only accounted for 28 percent of gross domestic product. Haiti only produced 49 percent of the food it needs to feed itself; forcing the country to rely on imports.
"Farming doesn’t provide for the needs of the country," said Dr. Bannatte. "(Yet) we do not have hunger in Haiti; we do not have malnutrition in Haiti. It’s a major accomplishment."
That’s because CRS has distributed 25 million rations since the quake, he said, to help meet the nutritional needs of the Haitian people.
But the real accomplishment, he said, has been in empowering Haitians to increase self-sufficiency so they may provide for their own nutritional needs.
Dr. Banatte called the fact that no epidemics have started in the camps "another major accomplishment." More than 1.2 million homeless people were sheltered in open areas, creating a huge potential for disease, he said.
Dr. Banatte said the efforts of CRS in Haiti have been in three phases: relief, recovery and reconstruction. Most efforts so far have been on relief and recovery.
In all of its efforts, CRS seeks to help Haitians to become self-reliant and take greater roles.
"We have transitioned into activities that enable people to make their own living, enabling them to provide for their families and develop the economy," he said. CRS is also working with farmers to improve agricultural production.
Eleven thousand people have been employed with pay for clearing rubble, cleaning out drainage canals and building transitional shelters. Others have helped clear debris, making way for 8,000 transitional shelters that have been built. More than 1,300 water and sanitation units have also been installed.
Despite these results, people have the impression that not too much has been done in Haiti, said Dr. Banatte.
"I think that is very true if you are looking at it from the (perspective) of reconstruction; even the rubble hasn’t been removed yet," he said.
"But if you look at it in terms of meeting food, water, and sanitation needs of nearly three million people in a highly vulnerable group, the efforts have been very successful."
In contrasting circumstances in Haiti with the earthquakes in Chile and Japan, Dr. Banatte noted that the earthquake in Haiti had a magnitude of 7.2 and lasted 35 seconds.
The subsequent earthquakes in Chile and Japan were significantly stronger and lasted longer.
People ask why 230,000 died from the quake in Haiti, when in Japan, less than 10 percent of that number (including victims of the earthquake and tsunami) were killed, he said. While all of the earthquakes have been tragic and in Japan the nuclear crisis continues, the disaster in Haiti was exacerbated by many factors.
The people in Haiti were not prepared. The nation’s last earthquake was 200 years ago. Because the country is prone to hurricanes; municipal buildings were made to withstand wind and floods, but not to withstand an earthquake.
Video images of the earthquake in Japan showed people running from buildings. When the earth started to shake in Haiti, people thought something was happening in the streets and rushed into buildings to protect themselves, said Dr. Banatte.
The distance from the earthquake epicenters to major population centers was another factor.
Most of those who died in Haiti were in Port-au-Prince, a city built for 500,000 that was inhabited by three million people, which was near the epicenter. In Chile and Japan, the earthquake epicenters were 60 to 80 miles from major population centers.
Port-au-Prince, the capital city center, was destroyed. "It collapsed the capacity of the leaders – the decision making people – to react because they themselves were victims," he said.
Dr. Banatte said he hoped his presentation encouraged people to continue to help Haiti in the future.
He encouraged people to "use their constituency, their voting power, to talk with Congresspeople (entreating them to) not cut the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable."
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.