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Haiti Slow to Rebuild in Aftermath of Devastating Quake

January 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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Jeffrey Brown traveled to Haiti to look at the struggle to rebuild and recover a year after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and nearby area.
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RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: Haiti one year later.

This week, the Haitian government raised its death toll estimate from last January’s earthquake to more than 316,000.

Jeffrey Brown has just returned from Haiti. In tonight’s report, he looks into the slow pace of reconstruction in the capital and in a nearby city at the quake’s epicenter.

JEFFREY BROWN: On a recent morning in the Haitian city of Leogane, young students worked through French grammar. Their old school was destroyed in last year’s earthquake. Fortunately, classes had ended for the day and no one was injured.

Now the lessons go on here, in a new building of concrete, wood and tarp funded by the aid group Save the Children. The students told us they like their new school.

This girl said she feels safer here. It’s a wonderful scene. But there’s also this.

Where do you live? You live in a tent now? Is that — is that hard, to live in the tent? It’s too hot all the time.

One year after the earthquake, this is the larger reality for so many of Leogane’s people: a tent camp on what was once the city’s soccer stadium. This community came together on January 12, 2010. The question now is whether it and so many others like it will become a permanent part of life here.

Some 25 miles from the bustle of Port-au-Prince, Leogane was once a quiet city of about 120,000, known for its colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. But this was the epicenter of last January’s earthquake. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people died, and almost 90 percent of the buildings crumbled or received serious damage, among them, Haiti’s oldest church, Saint Rose, a local landmark. Just the floor and some pews remain under a temporary plastic roof.

Most public spaces have been transformed into communities of the displaced.

Saint-Hubert Emerson, a teacher, lives in a one-room tent shack with his wife, 5-year-old daughter, and two others.

SAINT-HUBERT EMERSON, teacher (through translator): The spaces that we’re in are just not suitable. This is a soccer field. This is not made for people to live.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are people being patient, or are they growing angry?

SAINT-HUBERT EMERSON (through translator): People are starting to get angry, because they see the news and they hear the news on the radio, and they know how many billions of dollars have been given here and spent there, but their day-to-day situation is just getting worse and worse.

JEFFREY BROWN: One place Emerson can not look to is city hall, now a mere facade with rubble piled high.

SANTOS ALEXIS, mayor, Leogane, Haiti: As you can see, this is what we have now as an office.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mayor Santos Alexis presides over what he admits is a barely functioning city government. And he’s frustrated with the pace of aid.

SANTOS ALEXIS: I’m not satisfied. Earthquake happened one year ago. It looks like it happened three months ago. Nothing was done, really. All I can see is another bunch of SUVs driving around, but nothing else.

JEFFREY BROWN: SUVs is a pointed reference to the cars driven around the country by international organizations and aid groups.

SANTOS ALEXIS: Don’t — don’t — don’t get me wrong, though. I have — USAID was very helpful. Some of the other organizations are very helpful. But, totally, it’s not enough for them to help with the kind of problems that we are still seeing here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Much of the anger and confusion a year later involves money.

Nigel Fisher heads the United Nations’ humanitarian operations in Haiti.

So, if people ask, where has the money gone, where do I see it, what is the response?

NIGEL FISHER, deputy special representative, U.N. Secretary-General: Well, you see now a lot of camps that don’t look in great condition, but tens of millions every month have gone into making sure that those function. We’re now in a situation where people are — if people are not going home, we have to start replacing the tents, the tarpaulins, keeping the water supply, sanitation going.

JEFFREY BROWN: But as to moving beyond emergency measures to big projects, including housing, that, Fisher says, has gone more slowly than hoped.

The international community pledged some $6 billion for Haiti’s rebuilding, but only part of that was targeted to 2010. So far, around a billion has been dispersed. The funds are overseen by a commission co-chaired by former President Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Bellerive.

NIGEL FISHER: A lot of the projects were approved by the commission that was created, half-international, half-national, in the latter part of the year. The money has to get — once the project’s approved, money has to get from the donor to the implementing agency. That agency cannot start, for example, the bidding process for contractors until they get the money. So, that caused a delay.

JEFFREY BROWN: The result, claims the aid group Oxfam, was a — quote — “year of indecision.”

On Leogane’s streets, fingers are pointed everywhere, most especially at the government.

MAN (through translator): Since the earthquake, Leogane has just become like a pile of garbage. The government has no respect for us.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the capital, Port-au-Prince, the presidential palace looks just as it did right after the earthquake. Across the street, the downtown plaza, the Champ de Mars, remains a huge tent camp. All told, an estimated one million people still live in such camps.

While many of the roads have been cleared, rubble remains an enormous problem. Of the 25 million cubic yards of debris, only 5 percent has been removed.

There are some signs of life. One is the reconstructed Iron Market, a project financed by the cell phone company Digicel. Days before the reopening, would-be shopkeepers lined up to secure stalls inside.

In Leogane, too, there are signs of rebuilding, if only tentative ones. Temporary T-shelters are starting to replace tarps and tents, allowing some who have land to move back. This man took the basic frame and did his own makeover.

And, amid the wreckage, small businesses have popped up all over. But Haiti’s reconstruction mantra is build back better, not only better to withstand earthquakes, but also an acknowledgement that, even before the earthquake, this was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

REGINE BARJON, Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce: I remember when they paved that road. I was about maybe 7 or 8 or something like that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Standing in the ruins of her grandparents’ home in Leogane, Regine Barjon says the only way Haiti can build back better is to reform its farming sector.

The rich agricultural land in this area is dominated by sugarcane. But the industry largely dried up when local farmers couldn’t compete with cheaper subsidized imports from the U.S. and Europe. It’s a huge problem nationwide. Haiti imports more than half of its food.

Barjon took us to the one refinery still functioning — barely — where she’s trying to develop a partnership between the Haitian government and her company, BioTek Haiti. She says it can jump-start the industry and the local economy.

REGINE BARJON: This relates a great deal to the reconstruction process, because if this mill is up and working and operating the way it ought to be, we will create 32,000 jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: The mill is also set up to produce electricity, as a byproduct of refining sugar.

REGINE BARJON: We need energy. We need to create jobs. We need to make — first and foremost, we need to invest in Haitian economic self- sustenance. And, if Haiti, which was — which was exporting sugar some 20, 30 years ago, is now importing sugar, we’re never going to get that.

JEFFREY BROWN: The project is under review by the government, and Barjon says she’s frustrated by the slow pace.

But Patrick Delatour says Haiti’s government should take its time with big decisions. A year ago, the NewsHour talked with Delatour, an architect and Haiti’s minister of tourism. He had just lost his parents in the quake, but was already making blueprints for long-term rebuilding.

Today, looking at Haiti’s overcrowded and devastated cities, he believes getting the policies right is more useful than getting caught up in a blame game at the one-year anniversary.

PATRICK DELATOUR, Haitian minister of tourism: I am mostly concerned that, within the next five years, whatever new government comes in, find the legal and administrative structure in place to start the process of reconstruction, so that, at the end of five years, we have the result and we can see, let’s say, new villages coming out, people coming out of the camp.

And, in my mind, and from what I estimate on a comparative basis, rebuilding Haiti and rebuilding Port-au-Prince is a 20-years construction program.

JEFFREY BROWN: But can people here wait that long? And how long before the world turns its attention elsewhere? Haiti’s people, having endured so much for so long, may well wonder: Will the future look like this, or, as they say here, si Dieu veut, God willing, more like this?

(SINGING)

(APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff’s reporting from Haiti continues tomorrow night with a look at the struggle to contain the country’s latest health emergency: an outbreak of cholera.