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Preval Assesses Haiti’s Quake Recovery

July 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Ray Suarez talks with Haitian President Rene Preval about the recovery the country still faces, six months after a devastating earthquake.
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight: the second of Ray Suarez’s reports from Haiti six months after the earthquake.

He spoke with Haitian President Rene Preval yesterday.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

RENE PREVAL, Haitian president: Thank you, sir.

RAY SUAREZ: This week, you declared the end of the emergency phase and the beginning of the reconstruction phase. What’s the significance of that declaration? Why is it important to mark that time?

RENE PREVAL (through translator): I said we are moving from the emergency phase into the reconstruction phase, but we are maintaining the emergency phase.

For the past few weeks, we — during the emergency phase, we provided the people with health care, water, and food, and the tents. And now we have met with them in their camp. We asked them about their needs. And we are working with those people in the camps who wish to return back to their initial neighborhoods.

RAY SUAREZ: So, what will the people of Port-au-Prince see as we move forward in the reconstruction phase? What will change?

RENE PREVAL (through translator): First, I must say that the means at the disposal of the state of Haiti are not enough to take charge of reconstruction. I want people who contributed to funds that were raising money to help the people of Haiti, I want them to know that those funds didn’t come into the coffers of the state of Haiti, that we don’t have those funds in our hands.

However, with our own means, we’re going to do what’s in our capability to launch the reconstruction phase. For example, we have received $35 million in donations. People who give 43 cents, or $1, $2, $10, $1,000, and contributors that give a million dollars, and in total $35 million, we have 20 million cubic meters of rubble in Port-au-Prince.

And removing them will cost $1.5 billion. In the first phase, we have — we estimate to remove — we will be removing two million cubic meters. And it will cost $120 million.

You can see that the $35 million that we have received cannot perform a job that will cost $120 million. And when the cleanup phase will be over, then we will have to start building — rebuilding the roads. We will have some engineering work to do. And we will have to build shelters. And this is going to cost a lot of money. However, we did launch the operation. And we hope that the interim commission will take over as soon as possible.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, you make the point that the government of Haiti didn’t receive the money from individual donors around the world.

But that money did go to organizations that are interested in helping here. Will they be paying part of the costs of clearing your streets, of resettling people from the camps? Can you access that money for the purposes that you feel need to go ahead with the reconstruction?

RENE PREVAL (through translator): The government receives $35 million.

Now, the NGOs and the United Nations system received much more money than the government of Haiti. But I don’t think how much they received. I’m asking them to give me their money. I’m asking them to work with us, because, right after the earthquake, there were hundreds of NGOs coming here and they started working. I understand that, because, at that time, the government was very weak, because all the ministries had been destroyed. The palace had been destroyed. Several employees, hundreds of them, had died.

So, I understood that the people set to work as soon as they arrived. But today I’m asking them to come and work with us. For example, the people from Fort National who were here at the ceremony today, they wish to go back to their neighborhood. But you must pay them also to clean up the rubble.

And I’m asking the NGOs to finance the cash flow and program for those people. After removing the rubble, you have to also transport them to the dumping site. You must pay for that. The problem is that each NGO had already engaged itself into some sort of activity. And now it’s difficult for them to disengage and come and work together with us.

The biggest problem is coordination. And that is necessary. The means are there. The goodwill is there, but we need coordination. But it’s difficult to tell an NGO to come and work with me, because they prefer also to work on their own.

RAY SUAREZ: As you look back over the last six months, are there things that you thought were going to be very difficult and very slow that have moved faster and better than you expected? And are there things that you thought would have been accomplished by today that are still waiting or moving much more slowly than you would have expected?

RENE PREVAL (through translator): When I speak with experts who are serious and honest, they tell me that this catastrophe is the greatest catastrophe humanity has known, and that the time that we have taken to achieve what we have achieved is the normal time in all such catastrophes.

In Indonesia, the government hasn’t been affected. Here, the government has been affected. And, in Aceh, it took two years to remove the people from the tents. Tell me if I’m mistaken or not. Don’t you have people in New Orleans who still have not gone back to their houses?

And we are talking of catastrophes that don’t have the extent of damage that happened in Haiti. And we’re talking of countries with much more means, with larger means than Haiti.

I think the international community is doing its best. I believe that the government is doing its best. We have problems. We have coordination problems. And we must make efforts to better coordinate. The interim commission must organize itself and set itself up, so that it can start receiving funds.

And the main thing is to start writing up concrete projects, so that, when the money will be there, the international community won’t have to say, you are asking for the money, but you don’t have any projects to spend that money on.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, thanks for talking to us.

RENE PREVAL (through translator): I’m the one thanking you. And I’m taking this opportunity to thank you for making the cause of Haiti known throughout the world.

I also would like to say that the government is as worried as everyone else by the conditions of the people, and that the government is doing whatever it can to take them out of those conditions. But the thinking and the planning process takes time, and it’s difficult.

RAY SUAREZ: Again, Mr. President, thanks a lot.

RENE PREVAL: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Ray reports next on the thousands of Haitian amputees struggling to adapt to new artificial limbs.