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Six Months After Quake, Haiti Still Rebuilding

July 12, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Ray Suarez reports on the still-recovering Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, where some one million people still remain homeless.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, Haiti tries to rebuild. Ray Suarez has returned to the heavily damaged capital Port-au-Prince. Here is the first of his week-long series of reports on the situation in Haiti, six months after the quake.

RAY SUAREZ: In Port-au-Prince, deconstruction comes before reconstruction. Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of rubble have been cleared from building lots and streets, yet shattered buildings still stand in every direction.

When the tremors stopped, this metropolitan area had been shaken to pieces. An estimated 300,000 lives ended, tens of thousands of buildings destroyed, untold numbers injured, 600,000 people fled to the rest of the country.

More than a million people are homeless in the Haitian capital. More than a million. Imagine putting the entire population of Dallas out on the streets. It’s the most visible sign of the work that remains to be done.

NIGEL FISHER, United Nations: There are clear plans, clear targets now. We need the resources.

RAY SUAREZ: Nigel Fisher is a United Nations deputy special representative in Haiti.

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NIGEL FISHER: When you think about a million-and-a-half people in camps, 1,300 sites from a few tents to huge camps, while there has been violence and there is unacceptable violence against women in quite a few counts, overall there’s a level of calm of people who have been incredibly hit, have lost so much, which I find amazing.

RAY SUAREZ: Whether or not you see Port-au-Prince six months after the quake as on the right track depends on how you define success. All around the sprawling city, privately and publicly hired crews are breaking up rubble and bringing down houses inspected and judged to be beyond repair. Still, fewer than 20,000 new houses have been built to move Haitians from the camps.

DR. GEORGE MICHEL: They are living in very dire conditions. They are in tents that are crumbling. They are living in cabins. And they should have expected better from their government.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. George Michele is a well known medical doctor, journalist and historian in Port-au-Prince.

DR. GEORGE MICHEL: I think one of the priorities of this government would be to quickly build modern housing to give every single one who has lost their house a shelter because they have reconstruction money in hands. You have to address the housing problem and unfortunately, I’ve seen very little done so far in this direction.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been widespread criticism that the dispersement of a promised $5.5 billion in international aid has been slow, but Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says a comprehensive urban plan needs to be finished before any big spending can take place. He said the international community and his people need more patience.

JEAN-MAX BELLERIVE, prime minister, Haiti: People have their own frustration, but they see and they understand that every day their life is getting more and more normal.

But if you are somebody sick under a tent, it’s raining, your children are going to school, you have lost your business, and you put a microphone in front of that person, how do you feel your government is doing for you. I can understand and I can relate. I can measure the height of the frustration.

RAY SUAREZ: Bellerive says now that planning stages are near complete, the people of Port-au-Prince will see more evidence of the rebuilding.

But it’s going to take years, longer than these workers can wait. They’re shoring up the steep hillside that became their home when the earthquake destroyed their neighborhood just across the valley. They’re digging drainage, filling sandbags, mixing cement to keep their shelters from sliding into the ravine when the heavier rains come.

Julie Sell is with the American Red Cross.

JULIE SELL, American Red Cross: The goal of the Red Cross is to get people into transitional shelters, something that will be more stable than this. Because of the land issues, which are incredibly complicated, and the millions of cubic meters of rubble that are covering Port-au-Prince, there have been delays in trying to build those transitional shelters.

So until we can get people into something that is more sturdy, we’re trying to give them the tools and the knowledge to protect themselves as well as possible on these temporary settlements.

RAY SUAREZ: They would like to move to safer land but they can’t. Proof of ownership of land is rare in Haiti and the quake has launched thousands of disputes. Many of the government’s records were destroyed in the quake and it’s been cautious about seizing property, even when people need to be moved from dangerous conditions.


RENALD DERAZIN: When it rains it’s like a big river because everybody is in the water.

RAY SUAREZ: 29-year-old Renald Derazin lives with his wife and daughters in Port-au-Prince. He and his neighbors in this make-shift tent village have had to move their tents further and further from rising waters brought on by recent rains.

RENALD DERAZIN: Because you can see that the tents are too close one to the other because we don’t have enough place. And we have, as you can see, about four and five tents in the water.

RAY SUAREZ: This water is dangerous to your family.

RENALD DERAZIN: Oh, yes. We tried to prevent them to not work in the water because there are many kinds of insects and mosquitoes and many kinds of things. I mean that’s why we had a lot of malaria cases and also typhoid, we have two cases of typhoid.

RAY SUAREZ: The International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency, is hoping to move Renald and his neighbors soon.

A visit to Haiti’s general hospital reflects the tone of Haiti six months after the quake. Heavily damaged with many staff among the dead and injured, it swarmed with volunteers, emergency cases, the broken, the dead and the dying in the frantic days after January 12. It’s now a much calmer place. Still, pediatric patients today are being treated in tents outside in the tremendous heat, and much of the medical staff that stayed on the job for months will only next month get their retroactive checks for the last eight months.

When the wiring is finished, the children’s ward will move to these temporary buildings, but the director, Dr. Alex Lassegue wants a new hospital.

DR. RONALD LASSEGUE, Central Hospital: We work now to assemble sufficient funding to have another hospital, a new hospital, a new building and new way to deliver the care to the Haitian people.

RAY SUAREZ: After their many years of setbacks, people here continue to work very hard, endure all with a sturdy stoicism and a ready smile. But to get people out of camps that provide more security, water and food than their pre-earthquake homes, you have to give them a reason to leave.

NIGEL FISHER: If you remember that six out of seven people living in Port-au-Prince before lived in the slums, they didn’t have access to water and sanitation, the things they’re getting now in camp. So unless we can start to look at making sure that those services are available and affordable back in their communities, then they won’t go back.

RAY SUAREZ: Now more than ever, Port-au-Prince is a city that moves to the rising and setting of the sun, bustling, teeming and occasionally still the capital of the poorest country in the Americas ends the first six months of recovery moving ahead and still way behind.