If misery loves company, then most certainly Haiti has become one of the most overcrowded populations of shared wretchedness in the world. It has been one year since a catastrophic earthquake struck the impoverished Caribbean nation, plunging a people already besieged by destitution, illiteracy and hopelessness even further into the maw of despair. While much of the world has moved on, Haiti remains mired in misery and cannot be forgotten.
The numbers are staggering. Shortly before 5 p.m. last Jan. 12, the quake hit Haiti and killed an estimated 230,000 people, roughly 10 percent of the country's population. Thousands more were injured. Sixty percent of the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, lay in ruins. Since the earthquake, much of Haiti, already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has only seen more suffering — a November hurricane and a cholera epidemic that infected more than 170,000 people, killing at least 3,600 men, women and children.
Assistance has often been slow, disorganized and frustrated. Among the reasons: the breadth of the devastation, bureaucratic foot-dragging, political pettiness and the Haitian government's unwillingness or inability to help itself and its people.
In effect, Haiti has become a ward of the world. In March, a U.N. donor conference on behalf of Haiti resulted in 59 nations pledging an immediate infusion of $5.5 billion to begin rebuilding. The United States pledged nearly $1.2 billion to the recovery effort, the largest amount and an act in keeping with this nation's long history of humanitarian outreach in times of crisis.
But the money has been unbearably slow in reaching its intended beneficiaries. By late summer, only 2 percent of the pledged $5.5 billion had been released. Although $3.5 billion in total U.S. aid had been targeted for Haitian relief, the budget request was not approved by Congress until August, and those funds were delayed due to Senate holds on the money and determining how it would be spent and tracked. Sen. Bill Nelson's office now says all designated funding for Haitian relief has been released.
Despite the billions of dollars and generosity of thousands of volunteers, Haiti remains an international basket case of incompetence and corruption. Indeed, the United States and the rest of the world face the conundrum of pouring vast sums of money into a malfunctioning government riddled with corruption.
Yet the Haitian people cannot be written off. Their resiliency amid such suffering is a testimony to the human spirit. The United States and the rest of the world cannot turn their backs on them.