Rubble and rage come together in Haiti to highlight slow pace of disaster recovery

It’s one of the more remarkable — and sad — aspects of Haiti today: Earthquake rubble remains in central Port-au-Prince after all this time.

It’s certainly not everywhere, and by no means is the city still digging itself out from the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 that killed 250,000 people and displaced more than a million more.

But even nine years later, uncleared rubble is not hard to find.

In trying to move on, Haiti is mired in its own past.

A huge pile of rubble, now mixed with some of the country’s ubiquitous garbage, occupies an otherwise empty lot directly across the street from one of the city’s main downtown hospitals. Fruit and vegetable venders work alongside it, amid buzzing flies, mosquitoes and street dogs.

Selner Icarus, 37, has lived in this small tent in Port-au-Prince since Jan. 12, 2010 — the day of the earthquake. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Make your way a few blocks north and the city’s once-magnificent cathedral — in its day one of the most significant buildings in the region — also remains in shambles after being wrecked by that 7.0 magnitude quake.

Its crumbling remnants stand as a metaphor for the agonizingly slow pace of Haiti’s recovery from the disaster, which struck on Jan. 12, 2010.

And effectively ever since that day, Selner Icarus, who lost his left leg as a result of the quake, has lived in a homemade tent just steps from that cathedral. His space is about the size of an SUV. There’s no electricity and no running water. Just frustration that the Haitian government’s response to the earthquake in recent years certainly hasn’t helped him.

“Government?” the 37-year-old said. “I live in a little house here by the cathedral. No government has ever done anything for us.”

This cathedral was once one of the most significant buildings in Port-au-Prince. Now only its facade remains. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Like so many Haitians these days, he’s enraged by his country’s leadership.

Technically speaking, the recent violent demonstrations in Haiti were driven by anger over allegations that the government is rife with corruption. But it’s easy to connect the broad fury over that with the equally fierce resentment held by countless Haitians over the pace of disaster recovery.

To most, it’s all part of the same mess.

The corruption allegations are tied to the billions of dollars that were supposed to have been spent making Haiti a better place. Instead, a myriad of development projects sit stalled as fingers now point at the government for extreme mismanagement of its expenditures.

Icarus lost his left leg in the 2010 earthquake. More than nine years later, he says the Haitian government has done little to help people like him recover. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

And so in a country that never fully rebuilt itself after 2010 — and as people now learn government corruption may have been a key reason for that — it’s as if Haitians are collectively saying: Enough already. End the corruption. Fix the country.

Consider the community of Canaan, just north of Port-au-Prince.

It’s a purpose-built place constructed with the best of intentions after the earthquake on some low-lying hills in the countryside. It was designed to be a new home for many thousands of the Haitians displaced by the quake.

Today some 30,000 people do live there.

And though there’s the semblance of an economy in parts of Canaan, where shops and other small businesses mix with rudimentary schools for young people, most of the homes are tiny, cinder block structures often without running water or electricity.

A young boy is shown in Canaan, a makeshift community established just north of Port-au-Prince to accommodate some of the one million people displaced by the 2010 earthquake. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

For those who lost everything and are now living in Canaan, there seems to be little optimism life will ever get any better. “We don’t believe anyone will be doing anything for us,” one man told CBC News.

It continues to be a challenge throughout the region.

A drive through the capital of Port-au-Prince reveals tiny bits of positive renewal — there are new solar-powered streetlights, for example — but there’s a strong sense that most Haitians believe the whole place simply should have been so much better by now.

Even the demonstrations aimed at pushing Haiti toward a better place have sometimes added to the misery.

A man sifts through a family car that was burnt by demonstrators during street violence in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

The country’s tourism industry, a key part of so many economies in the Caribbean, had recently started to rebound after having languished for decades.

In recent months, the high-end Karibe Hotel, outside the city centre, had regularly been at near-capacity. But when the street violence made headlines around the world, cancellations poured in — by earlier this month, it was nearly empty.

“[Those who’d booked] were saying, for the obvious reasons of the protests, ‘We will be cancelling or postponing our reservations,” said the hotel’s marketing director, Emmanuelle Buteau Brisson. “It scared off and caused many cancellations … throughout the country.”

The family home of these young Haitian sisters was ransacked by protesters during the demonstrations in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. The girls’ father said what little money the family had was taken. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

In turn, that means fewer visitors spending money in local restaurants and shops desperate for income.

And even among those who support the aim of the demonstrations, there are ambivalent feelings.

CBC News met with a family whose home in central Port-au-Prince sits along the path of one of the protests earlier this month. Like so many places in the capital, it, too, hadn’t yet been fully rebuilt since the earthquake.

Then came the demonstrations.

Prior to the demonstrations, this woman says her family’s home still hadn’t been fully rebuilt after the 2010 earthquake. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Somehow, through the anger being vented at nearby government and financial institutions, the family’s home got ransacked and looted by those marching through the streets. The family found itself victim of Haiti’s misfortune all over again.

As three young children watched their mother sift through what was left behind, their father approached CBC News.

“Things are getting worse and worse and worse,” he said.