4 Years Later: Haiti's Progress Not Always Visible to the Naked Eye

Sunday was the four year anniversary of the tragic Haiti earthquake that took the lives of hundreds of thousands, left so many more with serious injuries, and quite literally reduced much of the capitol city of Port-au-Prince to rubble. Thirty-five seconds. That's all it took. I remember standing awestruck as we tried to reach our Ambassador and colleagues on the ground. Minutes felt like hours.

Four years have passed. There has been meaningful progress. But you might not have seen much about it.


To see the change, you need to follow its progress on a regular basis, not just a story once or twice a year. Recently I wrote about the media and the public's fascination with disasters. While an actual disaster is by far the most circus-inspiring event, anniversaries allow for a quick and often bleak looks back helping to perpetuate an existing narrative. Once search and rescue operations are over and rubble begins to move, progress can be difficult to see making it a much more difficult story to tell -- but it's one we must tell. Articles that summarize a year, or several years', worth of work into one piece often focus only on what the eye can see. And with each passing year the incredible stories of heroism give way to ones of failure. As we've seen, stories about suffering sadly tend to get more eyeballs than those of progress and lessons learned.

So what has happened since the stories we saw four years ago of mind-boggling selflessness and unprecedented collaborations have faded? The work has continued and progress has been made. But, I will be the first to say it has not been as fast anyone, myself included, would have wanted, but unless we could snap our fingers and fix a situation, no progress is fast enough. And long-term, sustainable change? While its impact is greater overtime, it takes more time.

In 2009, when Secretary Clinton called for a review of the U.S. government's work in Haiti (finalized a few hours before the earthquake) we saw that we had spent billions of dollars in Haiti but our lasting impact was harder to find. What we had done was given aid and aid is not the answer. Like the government of Haiti, the U.S. determined investing in long-term development and the future of Haiti was the only way to create lasting systems that would help Haiti on a path to prosperity -- and ultimately put foreign assistance organizations out of business. The earthquake tragically reinforced this decision.

Today, we are seeing results of the investments the U.S. and other nations, the private sector, and NGOs have made. Here are just a few: GDP grew by 4 percent; inflation fell from 8 percent to 4.5 percent; 180 miles of new roads built; 90 percent of displaced population have returned to safer homes; 97 percent of the more than 20 million cubic yards of rubble (enough to fill Louisiana Superdome five times) has been cleared; seven new hospitals and 46 new health centers opened; crime is down substantially; school is now free; cholera cases cut in half; and opportunities continue to grow tourism.

But I'm also a realist. Haiti has a long way to go, just as it did before the earthquake. While More than 1.3 million people have moved out of camps, 170,000 remain and we must work to help them home. The country needs to continue to work to modernize business laws to attract private sector investment. Calls for calm by the many must trump those for violence by the few. And perhaps most importantly, Haiti needs the all of us to stay invested. To continue to care. This means the media needs to continue to shine a light on the country, not just once a year or when tragedy strikes. Trust me, there are so many moving stories of resilience and the triumph of will over the easier option of indifference to fill the pages of any paper.

What can you do? Well, whether you're a reporter or not, please stay engaged. And you can start right now. Listen to what the Haitians have to say. Read this interview with the Prime Minister and this World Bank's piece. Go on Twitter and follow leaders like @LaurentLamothe and @MichelJMartelly. Follow the work of the Clinton Foundation and J/P HRO. And then share what you read. Let's pledge to not wait another year to look at progress in Haiti.

As I remember back four years ago, we were finally able to reach our ambassador, but we had lost four of own. And Haiti suffered loss I still can't wrap my head around -- more than 300,000 died because of 35 seconds. Yet in spite of the tragedy they faced, the Haitian people are stronger than ever. So while we mourn for those lost, we follow Haiti's example of strength and hope in the face of what so many can only see as despair.