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In Haiti, Hardships Plentiful as Earthquake Anniversary Nears

January 7, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown begins a week of reports from Haiti, one year after a major earthquake devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other parts of the country. Many residents remain in tent camps, where they are still struggling to rebuild their lives and the constant threat of cholera has compounded the loss of life.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, on the eve of the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake in Haiti, we begin a week of reports from Jeffrey Brown.

Jeff is in Port-au-Prince. And I talked with him earlier today.

Jeff, hello. You have been there in Haiti all week. It is a year after the earthquake.

What does it look like? Give us a sense of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, hello, Judy.

Yes, a year later, unfortunately one has to say that for the most part it doesn’t look different enough. It certainly doesn’t look different enough for the people living here that we have been able to talk to.

From the minute you get out of the airport, there are still the — a very large tent camp that you see. And, as you travel around this city, you see them all over the place. Even right behind me is an example, where people who have lost their homes find whatever public land is available and create these little tent communities, some of them quite small, some of them very large.

Now, you can drive around, and a lot of the debris in the city has been cleared, so it is easier to get around. But you will come across a street, you might see one building intact, and then another one and many of them completely destroyed.

We saw some building downtown in the so-called — the Iron Market, a famous old marketplace, where there is some reconstruction. But that is clearly an unusual project in anything we have seen. But for most people, this is incredibly frustrating.

Yesterday, I was in one of the — in one of the tent camps, and with a man who has five people living with him in this incredibly small, hot, constructed out of canvas and metal, whatever he could find. And he said: This has just gone on too long. We don’t see enough happening.

And there is a fear here that things aren’t changing and may not change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another big part of the story, we know, post-earthquake is the cholera epidemic. Are they getting it under control?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, cholera, you add on top of all the other problems here.

It is largely a rural phenomenon. And we spent a couple of remarkable days about three hours from Port-au-Prince up in the mountains and in a river valley where the outbreak began. It is heartbreaking to see, because you hear the stories of people who just weren’t able to get to a treatment center in time.

And the tragedy of this outbreak, in part, is that cholera is so treatable. You just need rehydration and antibiotics, and most people can be taken care of. But the problem is, so many people live out in rural areas far from treatment centers.

So, we went to some of these centers. We also went along with some people who were trying to do a public awareness campaign, to get out to the villages, to let people know about sanitation, about helping them with clean water.

Are they getting it under control? There are some signs that things are getting a little bit better. There is a question of whether this may have peaked in some area. But there are still great fears that it is spreading to further areas, to the north and south in the country.

And there’s also continuing questions about what happens in the city here in Port-au-Prince. One of the great fears has been whether it spreads into this overpopulated city. And we were in one of the city’s main slums the other day, where again, they are trying this public awareness. They are trying to get clean water into places like that and into these tent camps to try to control it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jeff, of course, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of political turmoil. They had an election for president in the fall, but the results are disputed. How much is that adding to the sense of chaos and uncertainty there?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that is the big current issue here and current turmoil.

And, yes, it adds all on top of the one year later. There were questions about whether they should go ahead with it. They did go ahead with it. There were all kinds of allegations of fraud. There was violence in the aftermath of it that shut this city down a couple of days last month, in December.

Just this week, there has been a team from the OAS, the Organization of American States, a verification team called in by President Preval, to take a look at what happened in November’s election.

Now, we talked to somebody knowledgeable of that — with that investigation. And we’re told that yes, indeed, they found all kinds of problems there. They found examples of ballot stuffing. It’s mostly about tampering with the tally sheets that you find at every poll, so that you can tamper with it after the votes have been cast.

Now, that team is supposed to, we’re told, issue its report on Sunday. So, that will be the next step here. Then the government has to figure out how to go ahead. There is supposed to be a runoff as early as next week. That clearly will not be happening. Now they’re talking about doing it perhaps in February.

The president, President Preval, is deeply unpopular here, but he’s talking about staying in power until May. If he announces that, that will cause all kinds of more unrest. So, there is the potential for continuing political turmoil here in the days ahead, definitely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Jeff, you have several reports to come, and we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing all of those. The first one, next Monday, is on cholera.

Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Thanks, Judy. I will see you next week.