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In Haiti, a ‘Degree of Vibrancy’ Seen Amongst Quake Relief Efforts

April 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As the rainy season approaches, relief workers in Haiti continue to move displaced people from tent cities into more substantial housing. Judy Woodruff talks to KQED reporter Dave Iverson about the continuing relief efforts, 100 days after the disaster.
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JEFFREY BROWN: But first: our update on Haiti and its struggle to recover from the earthquake.

From Port-au-Prince, we have a report by Dave Iverson of public station KQED San Francisco.

DAVID IVERSON, KQED reporter: More than three months since the earthquake devastated Haiti, there’s life on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Yet, 1.7 million people are still without homes in the capital city. Some 900 separate tent camps have sprouted up amidst the destruction, the largest with the population approaching 50,000.

Three months in, and, still, life is far from easy.

So, not everyone here has a tent?

This is Miakatedu, a camp for 5,000 people. Tracy Reines is directing today’s Red Cross distribution.

TRACY REINES, American Red Cross: And you cannot comfortably live in tarpaulins and tents for months and months and months without issues coming up, like health, like sanitation.

Thousands are already lining up?

MAN:

TRACY REINES: A thousand families already lining up.

DAVID IVERSON: It is approaching noon and the temperature is over 90 degrees. People are pressed together, awaiting whatever the Red Cross has to offer. The needs are basic. Not everyone has enough to eat.

DAVID IVERSON: How about — do you have enough to eat?

MAN: No.

MAN: No.

DAVID IVERSON: Today, people will get cooking utensils, buckets and mosquito nets because the biggest worry is the coming rain. Relief agencies have handed out enough tarps and tents to shelter a million people, yet no one feels safe.

Any worries about the rain, about staying dry?

MAN: Yes.

DAVID IVERSON: As challenging as these conditions are, people here aren’t as threatened as the thousands who are camped along the hillsides and steep ravines of Port-au-Prince.

One of the most vulnerable camps occupies part of the Petionville Country Club, Haiti’s only golf course. Roughly 50,000 people are camped here, many at the bottom of a hill along the edge of a dry riverbed. A few weeks ago, heavy rains flooded parted of this site, and some camp residents nearly drowned.

DR. ROY MCGROARTY, United Nations: We all had to run to our camps and physically take people who were drowning out of their tents. Anybody on the downslope side, anybody in a valley, OK, were in imminent danger of death.

DAVID IVERSON: Trenches have been dug to try and protect camp residents, but with the rainy season about to begin, relief agencies calculated that thousands of golf course residents had to be moved to a safer location, like the one you can see from the top of this former fairway, a place called Carai Sesalise.

For the past 12 days, caravans have ferried nearly 5,000 people from the golf course to this 11-acre site, barren, but flat and dry.

DR. ROY MCGROARTY: Five thousand people is 5,000 lives saved. What I see is a life saved, a family saved, in the hundreds each day.

DAVID IVERSON: The new camp is miles from schools and stores, and, yet, the families we talked to were happy to at least be out of danger.

CHRISTIANNE CESAIRE, camp resident (through translator): We were really scared because it was raining and the winds would blow the tarp. We were really scared.

DAVID IVERSON: As people from today’s last caravan headed off to their new tents, we passed a young woman singing. It was a song about faith and being saved.

DAVID IVERSON: The people who will soon fill this camp will be saved from the coming rains. And relief agencies say the larger goal of moving 50,000 people nationwide to safe sites is within range. And, yet, of course, there is still such a long ways to go before people here have more than a dry tent, before they can call someplace home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to Dave Iverson in Port-au-Prince. I spoke with him yesterday.

Dave Iverson, thank you very much for talking with us.

I know you just said that people there will be spared the worst effects of the rain. But what are the expectations about when the rainy season begins? How much time do they really have?

DAVID IVERSON: Well, all along, people have said here, Judy, that this is a kind of race of time.

What relief agencies are feeling good about right now is that they feel like they have got a handle on moving the most vulnerable people in the camps that are most in danger to these drier sites that you saw in the story. That doesn’t mean they’re over the hump, though, because there are at least another 40,000 or 50,000 people who are also in danger, just not quite as endangered.

So, there’s still a long ways to go. As for when the rain starts, you know, the official beginning of the rainy season, some say April 15, some say May the 1st. We haven’t had lots of rain yet, fortunately for everyone here, but everyone feels like it could be just around the corner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dave, you did talk to the health minister. What — what picture are you getting of what the health challenges are there now in Haiti?

DAVID IVERSON: I did talk to the government’s minister of health, Dr. Alex Larsen, yesterday. And, of course, there is worry about the possibility of infectious disease if the rains come and there’s lots of problems. There is the potential, of course, for problems with malaria, for dysentery and a variety of other health concerns.

They have some optimism that the vaccination programs they have done in the past will be helpful. And he’s also quick to remind everyone that a lot of people thought that there would be huge health problems in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. And those sorts of epidemics didn’t occur. So, there is at least some hope that — that people will be spared at least that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dave, what’s your sense of who is truly in charge? Who is running things? How is it working organizationally there?

DAVID IVERSON: Well, it’s a terrific question, because there is great uncertainty about that.

There is a feeling in the Haitian government, and, to a degree, certainly among Haitian people themselves, that there is not enough input from Haitian people, that there isn’t a sense that this is — there in charge of what is going to happen next.

Certainly, if you go to the camps — and I visited three over the last day-and-a-half — it’s not the government that is in charge. It is a variety of NGO, whether that is the Red Cross or, of course, the United Nations. So, there is a huge question going forward about whether or not more can be done, so that there isn’t just great relief provided.

And everyone realizes that great work has been done by NGOs, the nongovernmental organizations. But, of course, in the long run, what has to be figured out is how more can be done that will sustain Haitian independence, so that there won’t be people who are dependent, but, rather, independent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, at the same time, Dave, you were telling us that, for all the bad things that are happening there, you are seeing some signs of — of stability, that it’s not all bleak.

DAVID IVERSON: No, I think that’s really important to note. If you drive around Port-au-Prince, as we have over the last two days, you see a lot of street life. It seems odd, I know, to say that Port-au-Prince has a degree of vibrancy, that it is a vibrant city, but, to a degree, that is still really true.

There are tens of thousands of people on the street, making a living in any way they can, thousands of street vendors. Schoolchildren are beginning to at least be able to go back to school. You see kids in those shiny new uniforms and neatly shined shoes going off to school.

So, there is that part of the story, too. And you get a — certainly a sense here of great hope and faith that, in time, in time, that Haiti will see a better day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dave Iverson, public television station KQED in Haiti, thank you very much.

DAVID IVERSON: Thank you, Judy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Dave reports — reports today, it’s still hot and dry there, with no rain yet. His next report will look at the role of the U.N. and aid groups in the relief effort.