Celebratory Spirit, Still Gloomy Reality

Haiti’s annual Carnival was a true celebration but it was conducted amidst a landscape filled with massive squalor

Carnival celebration. © Courtesy of Haiti Libre.  2011

Despite the circumstances, a sector of Haiti has chosen jubilance over sorrow. The recently concluded Carnival celebration was a display of a festive attitude instead one of gloom, a showing that at least in spirit, Haiti continues to move on.

Carnival, much like the celebration’s counterpart in Brazil and other Afro-Caribbean nations, is a massive party, one featuring musicians, parades, and lots of revelry.

Such a raucous time seems odd for Haiti, as the country remains mired by Cholera and still waiting for a president to be named (the runoff election is set for March 20).

Sponsors and supporters of the event acknowledge the need to move on instead of being entrenched in the tragic past.

Still, such celebration, within the backdrop of tent cities, paints a picture of the crippled nature of the Haiti. While the festivities—and life overall—may go on, the suffering remains a constant.

Fifteen months after the quake, only five percent of quake-created rubble has been removed and some 750,000 Haitians remain displaced, taking refuge in the tent cities that stretch through nearly every part of Haiti, reports the U.S. Institute of Peace.

In a report by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the LAMP for Haiti Foundation, 60% of the camp residents surveyed live on less than $1 a day, and have only marginal access to food and clean water.

Beyond the earthquake-caused displacement, the health of the people here continues to be a major issue: the cholera epidemic, which began in October 2010, has taken more than 4,550 lives and infected at least 231,070 since its outbreak. Much of those numbers is due to poor sanitation, as compounded by the sanitation woes.

The complexity of Haiti’s ills is reflected in the Carnival images, as people parade with papier-mache characters of cholera victims and other symbols from the near and distant past that displays the unrest that is continuous here.

While the celebration displays the Haitian’s ability to move on, the country itself is still far from the completing the reconstruction process. According to reports, just The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that only 31,656 transitional homes (‘transitional’ sometimes meaning only a slightly scaled-up tent) have been built as of last month.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) has a goal to return housing to another 400,000 people in 2011, through transitional housing, fixing up slightly damaged housing, and by installing temporary structures in standing neighborhoods. The IHRC claims that it will train and equip a massive labor force for this effort.

This may be a wide ambition. If it fails, the Haitian backdrop and parade images of this year’s Carnival may carry the same tone next year.