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Bush, Clinton Visit Haiti to Attract Aid for Recovery

March 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are visiting Haiti as part of their efforts to lead U.S. fundraising to help rebuild the earthquake ravaged country. Gwen Ifill talks to a reporter in Haiti about those rebuilding efforts, two months after the disaster.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The Haiti story is next.

Shortly after the earthquake, President Obama named his two immediate predecessors to lead the U.S. fund-raising effort. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton visited there today, and met with Haitian President Rene Preval on the grounds of the destroyed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

Earlier this evening, Gwen Ifill talked with freelance reporter Kathie Klarreich. She’s been covering the Haiti story for ABC News and The Christian Science Monitor.

GWEN IFILL: Kathie Klarreich, welcome to the “NewsHour.”

We heard today of Presidents Clinton and Bush visiting Port-au-Prince. We want to know what it is they went to do and how they were received.

KATHIE KLARREICH, freelance reporter: Well, for the people that knew they were coming, which I can’t say was the majority of the population, I think the visit went really well. They had a press conference in the National Palace, and then they went across the street and visited a few people who are living in a tent camp there.

And then I think they went to a prefab factory that is putting together some of these transitional housings for people who are living in the tent camps.

GWEN IFILL: When we talk about things like these shelter challenges, the president — President Clinton said he would like to make sure that all the aid supporters, all the aid groups are on the same page. How is that going right now?

KATHIE KLARREICH: Well, it’s — you know, the people who are in charge of the shelter cluster, which is part of the United Nations, are very pleased to say that they have got about two-thirds of the 1.3 million people who are homeless now in secure housing.

Unfortunately, that leaves still about four million people who are — sorry — 400,000 people who are without homes. And, so, that’s a — that’s a very serious concern, because the rainy season effectively starts April 1. And about three or four days ago, we had a very heavy rain. And we saw some of the problems that the rains bring for those people who are not in secure shelter.

GWEN IFILL: Can you describe some of those problems?

KATHIE KLARREICH: Sure.

The problems are really great, because many of these houses are made out of makeshift wood, cardboard, bedsheets, tin, poles. And, so, when the rain comes, the houses fall down. The people inside get wet. There’s a lot of flooding that happens. They’re on very insecure hillsides, where there’s a lot of mud that falls. And, so, generally the conditions are just a disaster.

And we have only seen one strong rain so far. So, you can imagine this gets multiplied over and over again when the rainy season really starts.

GWEN IFILL: There is a big international donors conference coming up at the end of the month. And Haiti is hoping for $11.5 billion. Is there any connection between visits, high-profile visits like today, and the chances that Haiti will get that kind of international help?

KATHIE KLARREICH: Well, I think that was certainly the objective of the visit today. But I have to say, as one person said to me in the camps today, the Bush and Clinton administrations combined were in power for about 16 years, and the situation didn’t change in Haiti.

So, their question is, will high-profile people like this and the donors conference ultimately make a difference for them?

GWEN IFILL: Has the U.S. military footprint changed significantly just in the last month, as other people have stepped in, as non-governmental organizations or the Haitian government itself has stepped in, in some of these relief activities?

KATHIE KLARREICH: Well, I think one of the problems has been no one is really quite sure who is in charge of the relief. You have got the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping mission here. You have the international community, which has done a lot, certainly, for the people who are homeless and have been wounded.

And then you have the Haitian government. And I think each one has done their part, as they can with the resources they have. But I think there’s been an overall lack of coordination between all three components.

GWEN IFILL: And there are elections which are supposed to be on the horizon; is that correct?

KATHIE KLARREICH: Yes. Elections are scheduled — presidential elections are scheduled for the end of the year. A new government will, as President Preval has said, take place next February 7, 2011.

The problem is that it’s very difficult under these circumstances to hold elections. The electoral logistical and security component was run by the United Nations. The leader of that team died in the earthquake. The voting booth, more than half the voting booths in the Department of the West, where Port-au-Prince is located, have been destroyed. People have lost their identity cards.

Parliament, which has two chambers, will be — the vast majority of them, their terms will be up within two or three months. So, the whole electoral question is — is a real big problem for people to solve here.

GWEN IFILL: We see behind you the tent city still there in Port-au-Prince. A lot of people, however, have left the city and have gone to the countryside. Where are they? Are they staying away? Are they coming back?

KATHIE KLARREICH: You know, that’s a very — a very serious problem.

Yes, they’re saying that about a half-million people did leave after the earthquake, and they went to the countryside. And the problem in the countryside is that there are very few resources. So, the host families who took people in used up all of their resources, helped people go to school, they’re depleted also. So, many of those people are coming back.

They’re coming back not just because there’s no possibility for them to find jobs in the countryside, but they also want to get their names on the lists for permanent housing here and to benefit for some of the foreign aid and distribution that’s been happening.

GWEN IFILL: Kathie Klarreich in Port-au-Prince tonight, thank you so much.

KATHIE KLARREICH: Thank you.