‘Green Shoots’ of the Next Haiti Start to Poke Through

BY Ray Suarez  January 23, 2010 at 11:33 PM EDT

Maybe you’ve been riveted by the scenes of desperation and heroism from Haiti. Maybe you’ve seen the bodies stacked for burial by earth- moving equipment before anonymous masses are bulldozed into a pit. The “Haiti Story” isn’t just one story any more … it’s two. One is a country still stunned by the scale of death and destruction. The other is the country that is figuring out how to cope with the jaw-dropping tragedy that started in fault lines way under ground.

The NewsHour team came into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, which has been pulled into the orbit of its next-door neighbor’s horror. The Dominican army is mobilized to keep control of an open border. The Dominican health services are in harness, struggling alongside international agencies to triage and treat the thousands who’ve poured out of Haiti even in the past few days for long overdue treatment for terrible injuries.

Crossing the border is sobering. While the Dominican Republic is poor and struggling alongside international agencies to care for Haitians, the scale of the destitution is many times greater in Haiti … with a per capita GDP that is less than one-sixth that of the Dominican Republic. The southern border region is also stunningly beautiful … the road to Port-au-Prince from the border crossing skirts a gorgeous lake, the Etang Saumatre, bordering both countries. At first there’s little sign that something terrible has happened: It’s a sparsely populated region, and there’s virtually no damage.

But as you thread your way through choked traffic to approach the ruined city of Port-au-Prince, it becomes more apparent with each kilometer that a poor, ill-educated, and ill-sheltered people are struggling to deal with a calamity. Public buildings are piles of cinder block. The painstakingly assembled stock of modest shops is now all a loss. Upwards of a quarter million people are homeless, perhaps 150,000 are missing.

There are two groups of people living on the street now: poorer Haitians who have flocked to the city’s public parks to sleep, cook and care for their families. A little better off are countless more thousands of Port-au-Prince residents whose houses were not destroyed, but with the thousands of dead and dozens of aftershocks are afraid to return to their houses.

But the green shoots of the next Haiti are starting to push up through the rubble on the sidewalks. People are searching the smashed buildings for anything that can be used or sold. Craftsmen are once again plying their trades, welding and hammering and repairing in street-side tables. Cooks are preparing beautiful meals over charcoal to sell to the thousands sleeping there.

Just the existence of the tent cities themselves is a testament to the ability of the Haitians, while waiting for someone to help them out, to help themselves. One tent city is across the street from the destroyed presidential palace. The thousands of tenters have erected their own sanitation, with an Internet cafe, even a barber shop.

Later in the week we’ll head to the countryside, where buses have been dropping displaced quake victims from Port-au-Prince. The international NGO Partners in Health, partnered with the Haitian government, is trying to find people before their conditions worsen further.

We’ll also ask members of the country’s slowly reconstituting government what an independent and sovereign Haiti means when most of the work getting done at the moment is by volunteers from around the world and paid staff from charities. And we’ll travel the streets of Port-au-Prince with a Haitian businessman, trying to get Haiti back on its feet economically.

Let it suffice to say that no camera in the world can capture the depth and breadth of the destruction. Using the many news tools at our disposal, we’ll give it a try.