NEWS

Haiti's healing far from finished 5 years after deadly earthquake

01/12/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 03/13/2015 05:59 EDT
Haiti officially marks the five-year anniversary of the earthquake today with a ceremony at the site of the mass graves near Port au Prince, where the bodies of so many of the 230,000 killed by the 2010 disaster were unceremoniously dumped.

It will also be marked by smaller ceremonies in Port au Prince itself, including one at a UN compound that crumbled in the quake, and at the Canadian embassy where there’s an inukshuk in memory of the 58 Canadians who died in the Jan. 12, 2010 quake.

Today may also see protesters in the streets calling for President Martelly's resignation, because the Senate and Chamber of Deputy's mandate could run out at midnight if a last-minute deal is not reached.

There have been small protests since last month when Prime Minister Lamothe stepped down, but ironically it all comes to a head today, a day supposed to be spent remembering.  

Certainly, not everyone will be in the streets. For some, like Port au Prince resident Laurent Dunel, it’s a day to spend at home alone with his memories.   

CBC News met Dunel in January 2010, outside the crumpled Hotel Montana where his father had worked as a bartender. Dunel’s father was trapped inside under the rubble, and eventually died. 

"I didn't have any materials to dig, but I could speak to my father for 12 hours,” he told CBC’s Paul Hunter in 2010. "I speak to him from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., OK, he was alive.”

CBC News contacted Dunel last week and he said that after Hunter left, the search teams asked if they could cut through his father’s body in order to unblock a passage to rescue a woman who was still alive. Dunel consulted his brothers and gave the OK, rationalizing that they knew their father would have wanted to save a life.

Still, Dunel says, he’ll never forget being handed his father’s severed arm by a search crew member. 

Dunel’s mother also died that day in her church, when a wall crashed down on her.  

Five years later, graphic and tragic memories like these are still vivid to survivors, but the country is trying to move on. 

There was an estimated $7 billion in damage caused by what has been considered the most destructive natural disaster of modern times. It got worldwide attention from Bill Clinton and Hollywood stars such as Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie. The international community pledged $10 billion to help Haiti “build back better,” to borrow a UN catch phrase from the time.

Canada played a part in that effort, spending more than $800 million in Haiti since 2010. Some of that money has gone towards helping to get people out of the tent cities that sprang up as mini villages after so many damaged homes were demolished. 

Canadians were moved to give millions of dollars to charities, as well. Donations to the Canadian Red Cross helped fund the new construction of temporary plywood homes for the deaf and disabled in 2010, for example.

But two years after the Canadian Red Cross’s shelters were built, the organization has pulled out and handed the project over to the Haitian government, and its future isn’t clear. Today, the residents say they feel abandoned.  

“Anything that was built as a T- shelter (temporary shelter) became a P- shelter (permanent shelter),” said Marc Lee Steed, CBC’s local translator. “It’s crazy to think about temporary shelters in Haiti." 

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is still working on other projects in the country, such as the building of the Saint-Michel Hospital in Jacmel.

There are also some new hotels - the Best Western International and the Marriott - and a push for tourism. There are hillsides of homes now painted bright colours inspired by Haitian artist Prefete Duffaut. There are some solar streets lamps paid for by the UN. And there are new cinder block homes in various stages of completion, many with the rebar jutting out. 

But not all the money pledged by international sources has been delivered. And there are also plenty of questions about how money was, and continues to be, spent.

An $18 million U.S. Olympic park opened in July 2014 funded by the International Olympic Committee, its stakeholders and the Haitian government, for example, called The Sport for Hope Center. When CBC News visited it on Friday, it sat empty, not a car in the parking lot. 

The Sport for Hope Center sits on a plain below a sprawling new shantytown on the hillside overlooking it. The rebuilt area, called Canaan, houses a quarter of a million people in a makeshift community of tin shacks and cinder-block homes. There is no running water, sewage, or electricity here. 

Mike Jonet is a resident of Canaan who lost his job working as a janitor at the U.S. embassy, and now takes care of local orphans.

"This not no city, it’s a slum,” he said. “These people are living (but) they are living very bad. This is not the way people should live. They don’t look good at all. Them people are suffering big time. They are suffering."

And looking out at the Olympic park is irritating, he says. The kids from Canaan see the park on the plain below them every day, but they aren’t allowed to use it, he said, adding that it’s more a place for wealthy kids who are brought in by bus.

"Just looking at it every day … and we can’t go inside. We can’t even go inside. And this is very bad," he said. "They made it for kids to play."

Clearly, rebuilding after a disaster that caused $7 billion in damage would be a challenge for any nation to tackle in five years. But for Haiti, whose government buildings and records were destroyed by the earthquake, it’s proving to be a monumental struggle - one to which there’s no clear end in sight.

MORE:cbcNews