Haiti's year of devastation

A catastrophic earthquake, cholera, sexual violence and political chaos left an already poor country reeling in 2010.

    A disputed presidential election has added to the sense of despondency in Haiti [Reuters]

    As Haiti marks one-year since its catastrophic earthquake on January 12 last year, the country is still reeling from a series of devastating events in 2010.

    Cholera took thousands of more lives, there were allegations of rape in the camps set up to house those made homeless by the earthquake, hurricane weather hit the nation and the year ended with disputed elections.

    The events have crippled an already impoverished nation that ranked among the 23 least developed countries on the UN's Human Development Index. It remains the poorest country in the Americas.

    The Inter-American Development Bank has estimated that rebuilding the capital Port-au-Prince and its surrounding areas will take a minimum of 10 years.

    Deadly earthquake

    The country's year of disasters began with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that not only hit Port-au-Prince, but rippled across the entire country.

    The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people according to the UN, with the density of the population near its epicentre accounting for the high numbers of deaths. 

    The effect of Haiti's most powerful earthquake in 200 years was magnified by a series of aftershocks, which toppled poorly constructed buildings and added to the rising death toll.

    Conditions worsened in October when a cholera epidemic fuelled by poor sanitation in many of the camps set up for those hit by the earthquake hit the nation.

    The outbreak had spread to every section of the country by December and has so far claimed more than 3,600 lives.

    Haitians directed their anger towards the UN, blaming Nepalese peacekeepers for the outbreak, because the first cases were found near their base in Haiti.

    The UN denied the accusation but appointed an independent panel to investigate the source of the outbreak.

    In November, Hurricane Tomas rained on Haiti, adding to the woes of an already suffering population.

    Haitian anger

    But with more than a million people still homeless almost a year after the earthquake, and thousands dead from diseases brought about by unsanitary living conditions, there was more to Haiti's tragedy than natural disasters.

    In March, Amnesty International published its findings on human rights concerns in the devastated nation, revealing large numbers of women and children were being sexually abused in the overcrowded tent settlements.

    Haitians began to criticise Rene Preval, their president, for a lack of leadership, which Preval defended in a March 29 interview with Al Jazeera shortly before a UN conference regarding Haiti's reconstruction.

    Dismissing the criticism, he said that "when there are disasters, generally, people are not satisfied with what their governments do".

    Disputed election

    Haiti's general election, which was originally scheduled for February 28, was postponed until November.

    Following the poll, nearly all of the major candidates who ran for president called for the election to be scrapped, amid allegations of fraud and reports that large numbers of voters were turned away from polling stations throughout the nation.

    With no candidate receiving 50 per cent of the votes cast, the second decisive round was originally scheduled to take place on January 16, 2011.

    On Monday, it was reported that the Organisation of American States' (OAS) is to recommend that Jude Celestin, the governing party candidate, should be dropped from the run-off vote.

    According to provisional results, Celestin came second in the first round to Mirlande Manigat, the former First Lady, but OAS monitors are said to have found that the opposition candidate Michel Martelly had won more votes than Celestin.

    Whoever finally wins the election for the presidency - now expected to take place next month - will face the task of rebuilding a country in ruins.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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