Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti one year on: An aid worker's view

Image caption Haitians have struggled to overcome the worst natural disaster in their history

Wednesday marks the one year anniversary since the devastating earthquake in Haiti claimed the lives of 230,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

The quake saw an unprecedented response from the international aid community.

Here, one of the many thousands of international volunteers to join the recovery and rebuilding effort in Haiti - Ian Rodgers from the Save the Children charity - recounts his experiences and those of many Haitians, as the country has struggled to get back on its feet.

"I recall the day of the earthquake vividly.

It was nearly 5pm and I was in Save the Children's Port-au-Prince office with my colleague Lee when suddenly the room shook violently.

We both raced to the doorway. The office then began to shake really violently.

We stretched out our arms as we both stood in the doorway to prevent us from falling over. We watched horrified as table and chairs jolted across the room, computers fell to the floor and the office windows blew out.

I kept thinking: 'When is it going to end?' After about a minute, it did.

We immediately rushed to the back of our office where we could look down the hill to the densely packed city. But we couldn't see the city. It was shrouded in dust. We knew then this was going to be very bad. There was an hour of light left, so we told all the Haitian staff to go home and find their families.

Image caption Aid worker Ian Rodgers witnessed the quake and has worked on the rebuilding effort since

That night we slept on the ground outside the office. I was afraid of what the morning might bring.

We now know that 230,000 people died in the earthquake - one of the world's worst-ever disasters.

For the next month I helped to direct life-saving aid to the most vulnerable children and their families in Haiti.

It is without doubt the most complex and challenging disaster response I've ever been involved in. It was also the most harrowing.

Today, as we mark one year since the quake, I'm back in Haiti. It's my fifth visit to the country since the disaster.

Poorest nation

The media have mainly reported little change in Haiti since last January, and that in fact the situation has got worse because of the cholera outbreak.

It is true the pace of the recovery has been slow. All of us who work for aid agencies in Haiti would like to see more progress.

But it's important to remember that even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Only a third of Haitians had access to safe drinking water and less than half of Haiti's children attended school. Now the country has, of course, been set back even further.

Today approximately one million people are living in tent camps - 380,000 of them children who are vulnerable to disease and exploitation. A year since the quake, this is the last place we want to see children and families.

My own impression is that things have improved since my last visit. There is more visible order as you drive through Port-au-Prince, and camps are better served with basics like water and health care.

But the challenges ahead are enormous. A real test of the recovery will be ensuring that the 85% of the population of Port-au-Prince who lived in slums before the earthquake get to live in better, safer and healthier environment in the coming years.

'Room for hope'

For many of the families living in these conditions it is their only option. They literally have nowhere else to go. They own nothing, not even the land where their homes once stood, since most people lived in rented accommodation before the earthquake.

For others, the camps offer at least some basic access to water and sanitation as well as potentially life-saving care through cholera treatment units. The truth is that until there are better places for people to go many of them will stay in the camps.

Despite the human suffering in Haiti, I believe there is also room for hope. In the last year we have extended a lifeline to 870,000 Haitians - more than half of them children.

We have helped 45,000 children return to school, and we have built the first of more than 50 schools that can better withstand hurricane and earthquakes.

We are also helping people develop the means of earning a living - we're training market traders and providing tradesmen and farmers with small grants that enable them to buy things like seeds and tools.

That said, this is just the beginning of a long road of recovery for Haiti.

It won't be easy, but at least I can say we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Haiti as we continue our work to make the country a better place for children and their families."

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