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Anne Maguire: Haiti rebuilds from ruins despite world aid shortfall

Irish involvement is staggering. I think as a country that has struggled in the past and is going through a difficult phase, we relate to Haitian people

THIS Thursday is the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed over 230,000 people and made more than 1.2 million people homeless in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince.

Its impact in a country that before the earthquake was the poorest country in the western hemisphere can still be seen on every street corner, heard in every hawker's cry and witnessed throughout the 800 Internal Displacements Camps (IDP camps) littered around Port-au-Prince today.

In terms of catastrophes, this must rate as one of the worst of our time.

Money pledges after the earthquake came quick and fast. A total of $5.3bn (€4bn) was pledged by the international community at a UN conference in the months after the earthquake.

As the publicity died down, so did the promises, and after that month of devastation only 21pc of aid pledged to Haiti was actually committed.

People think the money was mismanaged or lost through corruption. The reality is, most of that promised aid never even reached the people of Haiti. Many excuses have been given as to why the funds were not released, but no excuse should hold the citizens of Haiti hostage, preventing them from receiving the critical help they need.

The positives in relation to the international response, including a huge outpouring of care from Ireland, has resulted in the rehousing of over half a million people.

Nearly 50pc of the rubble has been removed and more children are in school now than there were before the earthquake.

Haven alone has provided over 2,000 homes for those without a roof over their heads and trained over 3,000 people in hygiene promotion, conflict resolution and vocational training to help empower communities pursue their livlihoods.

We have employed 600 local people on our projects and, in conjunction with UNICEF and Irish Aid, provided clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene training to over 10,000 children in 13 schools.

Haven is only one of a number of highly effective Irish charities working on the ground in Haiti. Concern, GOAL and Soul of Haiti are providing equally worthwhile programmes.

Indeed, many people you meet in Haiti will say that their lives have improved because of the earthquake. As strange as it might sound, things were a lot worse for some people before the international community turned its attention to Haiti.

But sadly, this does not resonate with most. The problems Haiti faces still loom large.

A staggering 70pc of the workforce are unemployed. In Haiti there are no benefit or social welfare systems.

I have met women who do not even have a slice of bread to feed their children -- children who sleep under plastic sheeting with no toilet facilities or clean water. Heart-wrenching.

More than half a million people are still living in tents and under plastic sheeting. Imagine 695,000 people -- men, women and children -- in 894 displacement camps scattered throughout the suburbs and hills of Port-au-Prince, two years after the earthquake.

It is not surprising that with such conditions so prevalent, cholera has now become endemic and most Haitians cannot access basic health services or, in many cases, facilities. The cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 7,000 people in the last 13 months has diverted funding and attention from long-term construction projects.

But, despite this setback, progress is being made.

The Irish involvement in Haiti is staggering. I really think that as a country that has struggled in the past and is going through a difficult phase, we relate to Haitian people. Never have I met people so resilient in the face of hardship and willing to get out there and 'get on with it'.

Irish businesses have been able to avail of investment opportunities in Haiti, generating income, providing employment and stimulating local economies.

Digicel alone employs over 800 people in its office in Port Au Prince.

In the last two years, Haven has brought more than 1,000 Irish volunteers to Haiti to assist with building homes for local families, and will bring 50 more volunteers this April.

Many Irish people have chosen to live and work in Haiti -- people who have seen first hand the potential for change and have dedicated themselves to making this happen.

From January 21--28, the first ever Haiti Week will be held here in Ireland. The week will bring together business, music and arts communities and leading Irish NGOs to raise awareness of Haiti. The coming together of the charities at home in Ireland is symbolic of our work together on the ground in Haiti.

And while the wrecked buildings, blinding dust, open sewers and pungent smells probably make Port-au-Prince one of the most despairing places in which I have ever lived and worked, the beauty and resilience of the people and the magnificence of the countryside outside the rubble-strewn streets of the capital give me hope for a better future.

A future that the Irish people can be part of, and help make great for another small, struggling nation.

Anne Maguire is CEO of Haven -- www.havenpartnership.com

Irish Independent