Op-ed: 10 years after the Haiti earthquake, more focus needed on long-term recovery

A search and rescue crew digs through the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by the U.S. Agency for International Development [Public domain].

Op-ed: 10 years after the Haiti earthquake, more focus needed on long-term recovery

  • John Rivera
  • Jan 10, 2020

In January 2010, on his first official trip for IMA World Health, former CEO Rick Santos was buried in the rubble of the Hotel Montana, which was destroyed by the devastating Haiti earthquake. Ten years later, in this Baltimore Sun op-ed, Santos says we can better respond to disasters and help communities if we focus more on long-term rebuilding and recovery.

Buried alive: lessons from Haiti earthquake 

By Rick Santos

Ten years ago this month, I was buried alive by the largest earthquake to hit Haiti in a century. My colleagues and I were trapped for 55 hours in the wreckage of the Hotel Montana, alternating hope and despair as six of us waited for rescue in a space no bigger than a closet.

This life-changing experience was my first international program visit as CEO of IMA World Health, a faith-based public health nonprofit organization working in Haiti and in other places of need, such as the current Ebola outbreak zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the 10 years between these two gargantuan emergencies, the ability of the international community to respond is still not good enough.

The problem isn’t necessarily generosity. In the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake, private individuals donated more than $16.4 billion on top of billions by governments and international agencies. Most of those funds were spent on providing essential services, such as food, water, health care and housing, as well as clearing rubble so that more than a million people could begin to rebuild. I am alive today because of a rapid international response that found and freed me from the collapsed building. But in Haiti, as in most emergencies, urgency waned and the focus of the international community quickly moved on to the next big thing.

Unfortunately, that urgency needs to last years if not decades.

In most disasters, only about 5% of all funds actually go to long term recovery. After the initial rush of funds, the work of recovery and rebuilding often goes unfinished. In Haiti today, 10 years later, there are still significant numbers of people who can’t return home, who are settled in makeshift housing that still feels like a camp.

Read the rest in The Baltimore Sun.

Rick Santos is principal of NXPivot, LLC and a former CEO of IMA World Health. He now serves as a senior advisor to Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health. His website is www.ricksantos.org.