When I landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, just days after the massive January 12 earthquake, I witnessed a scene of unimaginable destruction. The quake shattered the capital and neighboring cities, killing more then 230,000 people and leaving 1.3 million children and adults without food, water, medical care or shelter.
Ten months since this tragedy changed the lives of millions, the country is struggling to re-emerge. Lives were saved in those early days and since, and I have seen progress made over time -- though the pace of recovery is not nearly fast enough for the people affected by the quake and for those trying to help them.
We need to make a greater difference in the lives of Haitian families. Structures, such as the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission and multidonor trust fund, are now finally in place to move things forward. But we need to acknowledge that all parties -- Haitian leadership, the UN and other multilaterals, donor governments, NGOs and others -- must do more, better and faster if "build back better" is to begin to reflect reality.
The scale of displacement of people and destruction of property was immense; the task of reconstruction is complex with many interests involved. That said, what should be paramount -- but has become lost in the longstanding issues regarding land tenure, inequality and lack of funding -- is the urgent plight of Haitian children and families unable to help themselves without the assistance of others. Only a small percentage of what we know can and should be done has happened. The reasons for the glacial pace of recovery are complicated, but they should not be insurmountable if we make the plight of those whose lives were turned upside down by the earthquake our overriding priority.
Save the Children and many other humanitarian organizations moved within hours after the quake to aid this ravaged country. Our work -- to provide shelter materials, food, water, latrines and health services -- helped save many lives. Yet today we are still operating in emergency mode, spending precious funding on continuing services in camps and on responding to the subsequent crises brought about by Hurricane Tomas and the outbreak of cholera.
Instead we should be joining forces with other partners in a bold, comprehensive and Haitian-led effort that moves people out of camps, promotes economic growth, and addresses their basic health and education needs.
About 80 percent of Haitians lived below the poverty line before the disaster. Many displaced families had rented their homes and now have to wait until affordable housing is rebuilt. Others lost their jobs and assets and lack the money to start over again. Still others remain in camps to maintain access to health care and other services that were never available to them prior to January 12. All wait in miserable conditions for others to take action.
We all must make it possible for tens of thousands of Haitian citizens to re-establish and improve their lives. It should not take months for donor nations to release promised funding and provide the technical assistance and manpower required to break the logjam of inefficiency, indecision and inadequate resources and move forward with a comprehensive plan to resettle those that have been displaced..
My great hope is that, with a newly elected government, Haiti will summon the commitment and find the support to bring about dramatic and urgent change for quake-affected families. We all -- donors governments, international humanitarian agencies, local non-governmental organizations and the Haitian government and its people -- must shift our efforts into overdrive to work together and do what we know is possible and critical. International focus must be maintained. Donors should reconvene with the new leaders of Haiti as soon as possible and ensure the flow of assistance continues, but does so in a way that enables Haitians to move from the crowded camps and rebuild their livelihoods and in doing so, their lives.
As we near the one-year anniversary of this terrible event, we must recognize that not nearly enough has been done to alleviate the misery of Haiti's people and help them -- and their country -- overcome the trauma of this crisis. We should understand why recovery has not moved quicker, but not use that as an excuse for further delays. And most of all, we should not forget that real human lives are at stake.
We have the knowledge and means to help Haiti create a better present and a brighter future.