The initial humanitarian response to the January 12 earthquake in Haiti has been impressive. Within weeks, Americans pledged over $500 million to the relief effort, almost equaling their response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s been estimated that half of all American families have donated to Haiti relief.
For all the outpouring of money from around the world and the heroic effort of aid workers, relief efforts remain hampered by Haiti’s weak governmental structures and inadequate social services. Supplying basic food, shelter and medical aid is still a challenge, especially in rural areas. Perhaps a third of the displaced people are still waiting to receive plastic sheeting so they can construct a temporary home. Meanwhile, relief workers worry that the camps that have been created for displaced people will soon breed disease and violence. Even worse is the prospect that these refugee camps will become permanent slums for half a million people.