Haitians respond to slow recovery five years after earthquake

By Sadef Kully

It is the five-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that changed the lives of Haitians everywhere around the world when the 7.0 magnitude temblor’s epicenter rippled from the capital of Port-au-Prince across the impoverished island nation.

The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 Haitians and left 1.3 million homeless.

The Jan. 12, 2010 quake kicked off an international volunteer effort to collect, donate and assist in bringing every kind of aid possible. For many Haitians in New York, which has the second largest Haitian population in the United States, it was more than helping fellow Haitians — it was about rebuilding their homeland.

“Our museum was completely destroyed. We are now in the second phase of consolidating and restoring our heritage site,” said Paul Corbanese, the treasurer at the Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation, Inc, a non-profit that supports Haitian art and preserves Haitian heritage, based in Cambria Heights.

The Musee’d Art Haitien, one of the two major art centers on the island, was severely destroyed during the earthquake. It was located in the historical district of the capital city, nestled close to the National Palace. Since its destruction, the Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation Inc has joined the Musee’d Art Haitien Support Committee of New York to raise funding and public awareness on preserving Haitian art and heritage.

“The Haitian government has not responded to our request for funding despite many attempts and any kind of financial support we had has been private,” Corbanese said. The foundation has raised about one-fourth of what is needed to rebuild the museum and need an additional $160,000 to complete the construction.

In New York, between Brooklyn and Queens, there are an estimated 191,000 thousand people of Haitian origins, according to the US Census Bureau. In Queens, the majority of the Haitian community has settled in southeast Queens, between Queens Village and Springfield Gardens-Brookville. In the aftermath of the earthquake, thousands of Haitians organized funding, supplies, and other forms of aid.

“In Haiti, I cannot say that nothing has been done. They have just finished the cleanup and repairs have begun on the Parliament building – it’s slow,” Corbanese said. “Like we say, ‘that money went around’ but the Haitians have not seen it – there are thousands of people in Haiti still living in tents.”

Since the 2010 earthquake an estimated $13 billion in U.S. and global aid have been sent to assist with the recovery process. A little over a year after the earthquake, an outbreak of cholera spread through the capital, which led to 720,000 cases and the deaths of 9,000 Haitians, according to the United Nations. A UN investigation concluded that Nepali UN peacekeepers had spread the disease through camping near the Artibonite River Delta, where refugees were using the water supply as a source to wash and bathe.

The lack of political stability and resources in the Haitian government have led to slow development and recovery across the country since the 2010 earthquake.