Memorial services mark Haiti earthquake anniversary

Memorial services are taking place across Haiti today to mark the anniversary of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated much of the country.

The January 12, 2010, earthquake killed more than 230,000 people and levelled Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince.

Haitian President Rene Preval and former US President Bill Clinton, now co-chair of the UN’s interim reconstruction committee in Haiti, are among those attending a service in Port-au-Prince to remember the 102 UN peacekeeping personnel killed in the disaster.

A memorial service is taking place at a mass grave at Titanyen where an estimated 100,000 people were hastily buried in the days following the earthquake. The grave has also become the final resting place of a further 3,650 people who have died in the cholera outbreak.

Thousands are expected to attend the Titanyen service and an open-air Catholic Mass taking place next to the ruins of Port-au-Prince cathedral, which was destroyed in the earthquake.

A minute’s silence is to be observed at 4:53pm local time, the moment the earthquake struck, while Haitians living abroad are also planning services to commemorate the anniversary where they are.

Commemorations have been overshadowed by complaints about the slow pace of recovery, which some say is being hampered by political and structural instability.

“The current instability prevents EU humanitarian aid (from) reach(ing) the people in need and makes the reconstruction process slower and more complex,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was quoted as saying by Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

One year on and some 1.3 million survivors are still living in tents in camps where conditions are poor and women live in constant fear of attack.

One woman told Sonia Pierre of women’s support group MUDHA that she sleeps each night with three pairs of jeans on to hinder would-be attackers.

“Many women get sick with nervousness; their nightmare starts every time the sun sets and night falls,” said Pierre.

World Vision President Richard Stearns warned that the long-term recovery of Haiti would only be possible with “unflagging commitment”.

“Much more work remains. Rebuilding Haiti will take years and will only happen if everyone involved shows an unflagging commitment to see this rebuilding process through,” he said.

In a joint declaration issued to mark the anniversary, Caritas organisations working in Haiti warned that people were being “forced to survive in shameful conditions” but spoke of their ongoing commitment to improve living conditions for Haitians.

They said: “It is not the earthquake that has taken our children, our parents, our relatives, our friends, but rather scandalous poverty, a lack of respect for the social rights of the weak, ignorance, irresponsibility. This situation adds revolt to our suffering.”

They added: “The Caritas family in Haiti is convinced that it is possible to have a different world in Haiti, a world with no hunger, no illiteracy, a world where there is a roof for everyone.”