On January 12, 2010 a major earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people died, and the greater part of the capital was demolished. Dr. Paul Farmer, U.N. deputy special envoy to Haiti, had worked in the country for nearly thirty years, treating infectious diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS. No one understood better than he how painful it was that Haiti, the site of so much suffering, would have to endure another disaster. It was, in his words, a “cruel cosmic joke.”
Farmer and former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, had just begun to work on an extensive development plan to improve living conditions in Haiti. Now their project was transformed into a massive international rescue and relief effort.
In his own words, Farmer documents this effort, including the harrowing obstacles and the small triumphs. Support came in the form of dozens of humanitarian groups and a flood of money. Despite this outpouring of aid, the challenges were astronomical. U.N. plans were crippled by Haiti’s fragile infrastructure and the death of U.N. staff members who had been based in Port-au-Prince. As the humanitarian operations grew, questions about their effectiveness mounted. By some estimates, Haiti had more NGOs per capita than any other place on earth. And yet, Haitians were still suffering from a lack of basic services, from a lack of food, water, and shelter.
Farmer shows how the earthquake heightened the problems in Haiti and argues that these long-term challenges cannot be ignored. In chronicling the relief effort, Farmer draws attention to the social issues that made Haiti so vulnerable to this natural disaster. Now that their already weak public-health system has been further damaged, Haiti’s poor are even more vulnerable to fresh onslaughts of diseases like cholera and typhoid.
Yet Farmer’s account is not a gloomy catalog of impenetrable problems. As devastating as Haiti’s circumstances are, its population manages to keep going. Farmer shows how, even in the barest camps, Haitians organize themselves, creating small businesses such as beauty parlors. His narrative is interwoven with stories from Haitians themselves, from doctors and others working on the ground.
Ultimately this is a story of human endurance and humility in difficult circumstances. Once again, Paul Farmer reveals what can be accomplished in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
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Table of Contents
Nèg Mawon Joia S. Mukherjee ix
Writing About Suffering 1
1 The Catastrophe 6
2 Praxis and Policy: The Years before the Quake 22
3 January 12 and the Aftermath 54
4 A History of the Present Illness 121
5 Into the Camps 140
6 From Relief to Reconstruction (Building Back Better?) 149
7 Reconstruction in the Time of Cholera 188
8 Looking Forward While Looking Back: Lessons from Rwanda 236
Epilogue: January 12, 2011 236
Afterword: March 31, 2012 246
Art, by Catherine Bertrand Farmer 260
Lòt Bò Dlo: The Other Side of the Water Edwidge Danticat 261
Sim Pa Rele (If I Don't Shout), by Michèle Montas-Dominique 271
Goudou Goudou Nancy Dorsinville 285
Mothers and Daughters of Haiti Didi Bertrand Farmer 295
Humanitarian Aid, Impartiality, and Dirty Boots Louise Ivers 308
Lopital Jeneral Struggles to Survive Evan Lyon 319
Doctors in Tents Dubique Kobel 328
Those Who Survived Naomi Rosenberg 332
First We Need Taxis Timothy T. Schwartz 342
The Official Jennie Weiss Block, O. P. 356
Building Back Better Jehane Sedky 363
Acronyms and Initiahsms 409
Photo insert between pages 216-217
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the book about Haiti that I have been searching for. It not only describes the powerful tragedy of the quake,but the difficult history of this nation and the strength of its people.
Haiti After the Earthquake is a novel in which a person has to get past a vast political message in order to get to the real meat of the story. This medical memoir by Paul Farmer does have its merits. Farmer was the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti. He is also apparently very close to the Clintons because Bill wrote a review for the back cover of the book, and Farmer mentions Hillary Clinton many times in the book. The novel’s message of struggle is very clear. It had many very emotional examples of heroism and kindness. He also spent chapters regarding the policy involved in the mess Haiti had been before the earthquake even hit. Everyone knows that the earthquake in Haiti was devastating, but Farmer’s novel delves into the idea that the failing infrastructure of the Haitian health care system made matters worse. He explains that “healthcare does not exist in a separate universe from politics” (page 23) many times. However, he does spend some time focusing on the stories of the earthquake victims, such a man who sat all night with a complete stranger all night, comforting through her bouts of tetanus, or medical students who were homeless but continued to work while sleeping in tents. However, most of the time the tone is very clinical, with phrases such as, “As President Clinton predicted on the day of the quake, the shelter dilemma remained the ranking problem in Haiti” (Page 180). All major problems in Haiti were addressed, as well as all the proposed solutions. Farmer is very knowledgeable about this subject and clearly knows the situations he writes about. The novel could have benefited from more emotional moments. It would have helped the reader connect, and made a more personal novel.
If you enjoy name-dropping and fawning over Bill Clinton, this is the book for you. For the rest of us however, I would not recommend this book. Although Farmer appears to have some interesting experiences, they are over-shadowed by his tendency to reference every organization and person he has worked with. If you are looking for a book about the Haitian earthquake and reconstruction, I would continue your search.