Washington, D.C., 10 January 2013 (PAHO/WHO) — Three years after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left some 1.5 million homeless, Haiti has made significant progress toward recovery. Yet enormous challenges remain, requiring new efforts and commitment from the Haitian government and the international community, said representatives of U.N. and other international cooperation agencies on the eve of the earthquake's anniversary.

In briefings organized by the United Nations Foundation to mark the January 12 anniversary, representatives of international cooperation agencies active in Haiti provided updates on progress in the country's reconstruction. Briefers included representatives of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Progress made so far in recovery, reconstruction and health efforts includes:

  • Nearly 3 million children under 10 vaccinated against polio, measles and rubella
  • A new alert and response system put in place to detect and respond quickly to disease outbreaks
  • Housing solutions provided to more than 158,000 families affected by the earthquake
  • 20,000 families returned to their neighborhoods
  • More than 470,000 temporary jobs (40% of them occupied by women) and 20,000 permanent jobs created since the earthquake
  • Nearly 200 schools completed with water and sanitation facilities in earthquake-affected areas
  • 80% of debris generated by the earthquake removed by the government and people of Haiti and partners including the United Nations.

One of the major obstacles to reconstruction has been the cholera epidemic, which began 10 months after the earthquake and has sickened more than 635,000 people and claimed more than 7,900 lives. The governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic launched an initiative in January 2012 to eliminate transmission of cholera on the island through major investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

"Water and sanitation are the most essential factors to ensure the elimination of transmission of cholera in Haiti," said Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet, manager of PAHO's Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief program, during the briefing.

PAHO/WHO, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have supported the elimination initiative since its inception and helped mobilize a regional coalition of cooperation agencies, NGOs, governments and other organizations to bring together technical expertise and mobilize financial support. Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced his support for cholera elimination efforts, and the Haitian government is expected to reveal a plan of action for its initiative later this month.

Other challenges for Haiti's reconstruction include "building back properly" to ensure that new buildings are built to withstand the impact of earthquakes and other disasters, said Poncelet. "For hospitals, this means ensuring that they not only remain standing, but more importantly, functioning after a disaster," he said.  PAHO/WHO has been working with Haiti's Ministry of Public Health, with financial support from Denmark and the World Bank, to ensure that hospitals and other health facilities are repaired and built to be safe in the event of future disasters.

PAHO/WHO is also working with Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and GAVI to ensure universal immunization coverage, to protect Haitian children and adults from vaccine-preventable diseases.

"There is no possibility of reconstruction if people are not healthy," said Poncelet.