Haiti one year later: Good news in housing, disease prevention and hurricane mitigation

There is good news coming out of Haiti, one year after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake leveled much of the capital Port-au-Prince and outlying areas.

Paul Weisenfeld, who was in charge of USAID’s Haiti Task Team right after the earthquake and knows a lot about the situation on the ground there

Hundreds of thousands of homeless Haitians have been resettled. Over 300,000 homes have been inspected and more than half found to be safe to live in.

Paul Weisenfeld, who served as Coordinator of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Haiti Task Team in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, emphasized these and other successes in a press conference last Friday at the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown.

Weisenfeld, currently the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Latin America and Caribbean Bureau, acknowledged that the scale of the disaster in Haiti was “so huge” it was often “difficult to identify successes” but stressed that progress is being made.

The senior USAID official noted that in the wake of the earthquake, which caused the largest ever urban displacement of people, many feared Haiti would be ravaged by water-borne diseases, dengue and diphtheria.

He said the U.S. Government worked with international partners to provide clean drinking water to up to 1.3 million people daily after the quake, to support the immunization of 1 million Haitians against various diseases, and to provide millions of mosquito nets.

These efforts reduced the spread of diseases, which Weisenfeld termed “an extraordinary success for the international community and the Haitian people.”

He also pointed to preparation work done ahead of the 2010 hurricane season which helped mitigate the effects of tropical storms. USAID worked to clear 9.3 kilometers of canals, removing over 250,000 tons of garbage so storm waters could flow properly. The agency also led sandbagging and other stabilization efforts in flood-prone areas. The result was that when Hurricane Tomas hit Haiti in November 2010, the country was better prepared and the impact was lessened.

Some of the most promising news reported was in the area of housing. By December, local and international engineer teams in Haiti had inspected 377,446 buildings out of the estimated 400,000 that needed assessment.

Fifty-four percent of these buildings are ‘code green’, which means they are safe to live or work in once more, while 26 per cent are ‘code yellow’, meaning they can be made safe with minimal repairs.

Weisenfeld said these concrete accomplishments have left him hopeful that “as much as Haiti faces a number of challenges, we think in 2011 we will see a lot of progress.”

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