Three years to the day after the earthquake that devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, international aid has not yet managed to put the country back on track.

More than 370,000 people are still living in makeshift shelters, malnutrition remains a scourge, the cholera epidemic continues to claim victims and Haiti's economy has not yet recovered, especially after two hurricanes hit the country since the devastating earthquake.

But there has been progress, even though it may seem minor, said the director-general of the Maison d'Haiti in Montreal, Marjorie Villefranche.

Villefranche, who visited the country several times, agrees that reconstruction is slow, but said residents “must show patience and courage.” She said she prefers to focus on “what has been done and not on what is missing.”

The 2010 earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in history: Haiti's previous presidential administration said 316,000 people were killed but no one really knows how many died. The disaster also displaced more than a million others.

International aid has exceeded $7 billion so far. Nevertheless, the needs in the country are still enormous.

"I think things are getting better but not as fast as everybody would like it to be," said Villefranche. "The biggest issue is to rebuild the economy of the country."

Haunting memories

Marie-Danielle Nicolas and her almost three-year-old daughter Chiara said they're grateful they now have a home in Montreal, but the earthquake changed everything.

"I feel like I'm reliving every moment," said Nicolas, who was 34 weeks pregnant when it happened.

She was about to get out of her car, "and it started," she said. "The house collapsed. The wall of the house fell on my car."

Nicolas and her family slept on the street for days, but thanks to a visa to visit Canada, she was able to leave the country. She left her husband behind and delivered her baby alone in Montreal.

She and others gathered at the Maison d'Haiti in montreal Saturday to share their stories.

Volunteers also spoke about what can be improved.

"We are more interested in what we can do better the situation instead of thinking, 'Oh it's getting worse' and I see there's a lot of things that are done, a lot of teaching that's done for professionals," said student and aid worker Nancia Marthe Prochette.

Her father, Haitian-born doctor Harry-Max Prochette, agrees. Brocks and mortar are important, but a trained workforce means survival, he said.

"Now, we have to rebuild some hospitals, but we have also to reform the people who work in hospitals... to educate those people," he said. "We have to help the government and we have to help the country to become independent."

President Martelly thanks aid groups

Meanwhile In Haiti Saturday, President Michel Martelly urged Haitians to recall the tens of thousands of people who lost their lives in a devastating earthquake, marking the disaster's anniversary Saturday with a simple ceremony.

Martelly also thanked other countries and international organizations for their help.

"Haitian people, hand in hand, we remember what has gone," Martelly said as a gigantic Haitian flag flew half-mast before him on the front lawn of the former National Palace, a pile of tangled steel reinforcement bars nearby. "Hand in hand, we're remembering, we're remembering Jan. 12."

Clad in black, several dozen senior government officials gathered where the elegant white palace had stood before it collapsed in the temblor and was later demolished. Foreign diplomats and Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova, earlier named by Martelly as one of Haiti's goodwill ambassadors, were also there.

In the speech, Martelly announced a government contest seeking designs for a monument to honour those who died in the quake. He also said the government had just released a new construction code aimed at ensuring new buildings are seismically resistant but didn't provide details.

Later in the day, Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and former U.S. president Bill Clinton placed a wreath at a mass burial site north of the capital of Port-au-Prince. Crosses that once spiked the makeshift grave have since vanished.

Most of the rubble created by the quake has since been carted away but there are hundreds of thousands still living in grim displacement camps.

Many people had hoped the reconstruction effort would have made more headway by now, but progress has been stymied by political paralysis, the scale of devastation and a trickle of aid.

Jan. 12 was observed as a national holiday the last two years to remember the quake. This year, the government said the day would no longer be a holiday but called for the Haitian flag to be flown at half-mast and for nightclubs and "similar establishments" to close.

The anniversary this year has been used by Haiti observers to criticize the reconstruction process and by foreign aid groups to promote their work and raise money.

But for some Haitians, it was just another day.

"We can't remain focused on Jan. 12th," said Asaie St. Louis, a 56-year-old teacher and devout church-goer, Bible in hand. "It's passed already."


With reports from CTV Montreal and The Canadian Press