Haiti Earthquake: What's changed, and hasn't, a year later

January 12, 2011 at 6:24am

A woman walks past an earthquake-damaged building on Jan. 11, 2011, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)A woman walks past an earthquake-damaged building on Jan. 11, 2011, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

The easy thing to say is that it feels like Haiti's devastating earthquake happened yesterday. Buildings are still pancaked along the streets. The presidential palace and cathedral are still collapsed. There are still bodies in the rubble.


But it does not.


It feels like it happened a year ago, which it did, the shaking and the falling, the shattering of the windows and walls of my former house. The screaming of the women in the hills and the panic in the streets. The boy with the broken head and the blood pooling near my feet.


The earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, and this is Jan. 12, 2011, and we are in a different place.


In many ways it feels more like Haiti before the quake. There is a political crisis with no clear solution, a president that must leave power imminently, an election that must be resolved immediately, no clear path for either.


There is an unexpected cholera epidemic that has little to do with the disaster, an imported disease that began outside the quake zone.


Even the "tent" camps have for nearly all this time been simply new shantytowns, every day less a product of tectonics and more a new chapter in the decades-long anarchic self-zoning of the capital.


What is most distinct about this Jan. 12 — from the last and from all Haiti's 206 previous Jan. 12s — is that this one was supposed to be different.


If you live in basically any of the world's major economies, and a lot of minor ones, chances are that your government made a promise of money, commitment, speed, coordination and intent — not just to rebuild what was here before, but to help make it better.


But most of the money promised was not delivered, and most of the money delivered was not spent.


The underlying issues, the core problems that keep Haiti like this — poor governance, lack of institutions, lack of national leadership unimpeded by interference from abroad, a lack of even the most basic governing systems like tax collection, land registries or a census — were barely addressed, if at all.


KatzKatzOn this Jan. 12, the aid groups and NGOs are flying in their bosses to tout very limited successes and ask for money to do it over again.


My colleagues in the media are returning with them, like swallows to Capistrano. We're all back together in a Haiti that will seem to have barely changed, but we are indeed in a new and different place.


What opportunity there may have been last year is lost to time, but time is not standing still. Things will be different again next Jan. 12.


The question for all now gathered here is how.


Jonathan Katz, AP's correspondent in Haiti, was the only full-time foreign correspondent in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck last January. He's @KatzOnEarth on Twitter; follow him for updates on today's quake anniversary.






For more on the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, take a look at this report by AP Video Journalist Rich Matthews, who recently returned to Port-au-Prince after having covered the aftermath of the quake.




Follow AP on Twitter here.