Even before January 12, 2010, Haiti (the western side of Hispaniola Island, next to the Dominican Republic in the east), was the poorest country in the western hemisphere with 80% of the population living below the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Corruption, violence and organized crime are endemic. The first time I went to Haiti was in January 2010, a few days after the catastrophic earthquake. As soon as I arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital, I saw that entire neighborhoods had been razed and that the main infrastructure and facilities had collapsed or been seriously damaged: hospitals, banks, ministries and police headquarters, not to mention the prison where thousands of inmates had fled, courtesy of the quake.
The city was in chaos with people wandering around the streets, without even the basic essentials of water, food and medical care. There was also looting and fire. With no control from either the State or police, the situation was apocalyptic. I spent a few weeks in Haiti as a guest of an Italian/Haitian friend whose house, while damaged, had not collapsed, and he and his family were lucky enough to be unhurt. We all slept in the courtyard, dreading the many aftershocks. Despite the tragedy, or perhaps because of it, I was immediately impressed by the kindness and dignity of the Haitian people, emotions I have tried to convey in my photographs. After my first trip to Haiti, I felt a great urge to go back, to continue covering the aftermath. On May 2010, during the wet season, I returned. Torrential storms had made day-to-day existence even tougher for the homeless (an estimated 1 to 1.8 million). Evacuees were living in makeshift tent-cities in the capital, set up wherever space was available, but without any water supply, sanitation or healthcare services. Even though reconstruction had not begun, many returned to their home neighborhoods where landslides then caused further fatalities. In these conditions, tension and anger inevitably developed, often resulting in clashes with the police. My last trip to Haiti was in November 2010, to report on the presidential elections. In late October, a cholera outbreak struck – the coup de grace, with a death toll of around 5000. Already overcrowded hospitals were unable to cope with such an emergency, and the disease spread. While the tragedies seem to be endless, the people of Haiti have carried on, boosted by their community spirit and strong religious and mystical beliefs.