When the 2010 earthquake struck the Port-au-Prince area, the international community rallied and raised billions of dollars for the reconstruction and development of Haiti. In the first few months after the earthquake, celebrities flew to Haiti on their private jets, major financial institutions pledged copious amounts of money and world leaders routinely pledged their commitment to helping Haiti build back better.
As the 5th anniversary of the earthquake approaches, though, that frenzy around the effort to rebuild Haiti has died down. The media moved on, donor pledges fell short and the rehabilitation of Port-au-Prince and its suburbs has left a lot to be desired.
In Port-au-Prince, men work on a new fish market and hospital. On Champs De Mars, where the National Palace stood before the earthquake toppled it, construction is in full swing. The tent camp in the area that had risen up after the earthquake was cleared away — forcing many inhabitants to live with relatives or hastily built shoddy shacks. Though the number of displaced has diminished from 1.5 million, tens of thousands of Haitians are still living in camps.
Undoubtedly, the new ministry buildings are going to be beautiful, but expensive. Huge billboards with sketches of what they’ll look like have been erected in front of the half-built structures, and Haiti ap vanse (“Haiti moves forward”) is spray painted on the large barrier separating people from the projects.
“Haiti is moving forward” seems to be the battle cry of the rebuilding effort, but not everyone has been invited to move along.
In some areas of Port-au-Prince piles of empty Styrofoam containers and plastic bottles form mountains of trash that clog the sewage systems. A few good Samaritans do their best to clean up. Black goats and wild pigs happily munch on the garbage littering the sidewalks, while merchants splash through puddles from the previous night’s rain with their goods piled in their arms or strategically balanced on their heads.
Up in the hills, away from the noise and traffic of the city, new hotels dot the well-to-do suburb of Pétionville and cruise lines dock in Labadee, one of Haiti’s many attractive islands.
The tourism sector is expanding again, at last. Prior to the 1980s U.S.-manufactured AIDS scare, tourism in Haiti accounted for 80 percent of economic revenue, but after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included Haitians as likely AIDS carriers, the tourism sector crumbled.
Now, under President Michel Martelly the Ministry of Tourism is supporting new projects and beach resorts. Inhabitants of the lands that are being used for these new developments are decrying the projects, saying that their needs and environmental impacts are being ignored. Still, mounted televisions at Toussaint Louverture International Airport play tourism ads featuring former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe — who recently resigned — on a loop.
Martelly’s other campaign promise was education. Posters advertising free schooling for children can be seen throughout Port-au-Prince and its suburbs. And school participation is on the rise, but tourism has certainly gotten more attention for now.
Sitting by the pool at the modernized El Rancho Hotel — which was renovated in 2013 to coincide with the opening of two more hotels — it’s easy to feel like they’re two different Haitis.
According to the World Bank, inequality in Haiti remains painfully high, with the richest 20 percent of the population controlling 64 percent of the wealth. Inequality is not a new concept to Haiti, where for decades a tiny elite has ruled over the mountainous country — and it looks like reconstruction efforts will succumb to that same disparity.