The statues of Haiti’s heroes who led the slave revolt centuries ago are no longer visible. The square overlooking the now destroyed Presidential Palace has become a mass of makeshift shelters, obscuring the national symbols of tumultuous change and great hope.
Now Haiti is once again on the cusp of a new era - hoping the turmoil and destruction of recent months may be the catalyst needed to start planning for a stable and prosperous future.
In New York yesterday, Western governments and businesses pledged billions of dollars for Haiti’s reconstruction. There was a great deal at stake. Out of the ruins could rise either a new Haiti, built on strong foundations of social justice, or the Haiti of old, rebuilt on inequality.
Nearly three months after the earthquake, Haitians still urgently need shelter and sanitation and the impending rains threaten misery and the spread of disease. Building a better Haiti means tackling housing with proper provision of water and sanitation, schools and hospitals, and opportunities for work.
The Haitian government must be held accountable to ordinary citizens as well as the international donors paying the bills. Admittedly in a country where government institutions are weak, putting such a massive task on its shoulders requires a leap of faith.
Rebuilding Haiti will be a massive task requiring significant levels of international support. The government estimates that the country will need roughly $12bn over the next three years to rebuild. Billions of dollars will be pledged in New York but it remains to be seen how much of these pledges turn into actual cash support.
Reconstruction of the country must be for Haitians and led by Haitians – and women must be equal partners in the new Haiti - from community level to the highest reaches of government.
Rebuilding will not happen overnight - and the vastness of the task should not be underestimated. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere where 80 per cent of people survived on less than $2 a day.
Haiti’s largest slum is appropriately named Carrefour, meaning crossroads. Haiti is indeed at a crossroads and must now be empowered to build a better and more equitable world. One that the brave former slaves of the revolution could only dream of.
Barbara Stocking is Chief Executive of Oxfam