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Haiti: Slow progress but huge challenges ahead

At departure gate D24 at Miami International airport an American woman, sitting opposite me, who lives in Haiti asks the purpose of my visit to her adopted country. “I’m with Save the Children,” I politely replied feeling slightly fractious after a 36-hour journey from Australia.

She shook her head slowly and said,  “It’s very bad in Haiti.  Not a lot has changed since the earthquake.” This blunt assessment of the on the ground reality in Haiti did not come as a complete shock.

For the past month I’ve been preparing for my first visit to Haiti, the tiny island nation in the Caribbean that was rocked January 12, 2010 by one of the world’s worst ever disasters – a massive earthquake that killed 230,000 people and rendered millions more homeless.

I’ve read daily media reports on the Haiti situation. I’ve spoken at length to aid workers who were there when the earthquake struck, helped write a story for one of them (you can read that story in Melbourne’s Herald Sun next Wednesday), written opinion pieces for Australian newspapers, and organised media visits for Australian media travelling to Haiti to cover the story of the quake one year on.

But of course nothing will prepare me as well as witnessing first hand the devastation caused by the earthquake.

Nothing’s changed: those words ring in my ears.  Is that really true?

The fact is there has been progress – slow progress – in Haiti, but there are still enormous challenges ahead for the local authorities and international community, such as moving 1.3 million people from tent camps to more permanent housing; clearing millions of tonnes of rumble; tackling cholera that has so far killed over 3,300 people and infected tens of thousands; not to mention a stalled election process that has failed to deliver a credible government that can lead the recovery.

Save the Children has helped 870,000 children and adults since the quake. More recently we’ve established cholera treatments units to help us reach up to 600,000 people over the next six months.

We’ve also started to build schools that are more hurricane and earthquake resistant.  Over the next year or so we will build 30 of these schools.

And that’s just the start. We’ll also invest in livelihoods programs to help small business and entrepreneurs to help grow Haiti’s economy, we’ll educate children and through them their families on how to survive an earthquake or hurricane as well a raft of other programs to help build a brighter future for generations of Haiti’s children.

That said we recognise the job is far from done in Haiti.  In fact the process of long-term earthquake recovery is really just beginning and will take many years.

Ok, I have to run. It’s final boarding for American Airlines flight AA377 to Port Au Prince, Haiti.

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