A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as they toured tent camps in Haiti. I wanted to know how the destruction they were seeing compared with the damage in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Clinton was concerned: Haiti, he pointed out, also has a hurricane season, and the earthquake has left Haiti more vulnerable than ever to floods and high winds. Bush painted a rosier picture, both about Haiti's future and about what happened after Katrina. "I hope the government is able to rebuild as fast as we did in New Orleans," he told me.
Katrina hit New Orleans hard because of the city's poverty, corruption, and precarious infrastructure. In Haiti, the conditions were even more crushing. New Orleans's levees failed due to inadequate engineering and neglect. Haiti's buildings crumbled en masse because no building standards were followed at all. Two months after the quake, thousands are still living in makeshift shelters assembled from sheets, scrap wood, tin, and other found objects. Every so often during my recent visit, I saw durable factory-made tents donated by NGOs or sent by Haitian family members living abroad, but those were the exception.