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Already struggling to rebuild a government after rebels forced the removal of Haiti's president, the poverty-stricken nation was dealt another blow when Hurricane Jeanne swept through and left nearly 2,000 people dead. Betty Ann Bowser looks at Haiti's latest recovery efforts.
BETTY ANN BOWSER:
The death and destruction that Hurricane Jeanne brought to Florida two months ago got much attention. But in Haiti, the devastation was even worse. Gonaives is Haiti's third largest city. Nearly 2,000 people died, 900 are missing and presumed dead, and 200,000 were left homeless — this in a city of only 250,000.
Andre Jacques is trying to clean up some of the mess that was left behind. Flashfloods washed mud and debris through his home, taking with it a wall and practically everything but the clothes his family was wearing that day. Andre and his wife, Mycha, take turns scraping the 3 feet of mud out of their living room with the only tool they have, a single hoe. But they say they feel lucky.
MYCHA JACQUES (Translated):
I have five children, and I'm just happy to have all five children alive. That's the best thing. That's the best gift that God could have given me.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and it is wracked by violence. Each day here brings more killing and attacks from antigovernment militias, drug gangs and rebels, all heavily armed.
And there's political unrest, too. It came to a boil more than eight months ago when Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was pushed from office by rebel forces. The provisional government that succeeded Aristide is as weak as the rebel forces are strong. Security concerns have made foreign governments and aid organizations reluctant to spend billions allocated for fixing storm damage.
In February, the United Nations authorized an international stabilization force of 6,700 soldiers. But so far there are only about 3,000 troops, mostly Brazilian, on the ground. Between violence, political turmoil and natural disasters, aid workers and others say it is impossible to launch a recovery program. The few remaining relief workers, like CARE International's Rick Perera, are struggling to do what they can.
RICK PERERA, CARE International:
At this point we don't even know if all of the bodies have been recovered. Just a few days ago they found several hundred more, and that creates a major health hazard.
And it's logistically difficult for aid workers to do their job. The harbor in Gonaives remains damaged and virtually under the control of rebels. Tens of thousands of Haitians are homeless and hungry. They gather at the Mapou River to wash their clothes, and bathe in polluted water.
Streets are caked with mud, alleys look like canals, and murky water still stands in big lakes. This lake used to be a road, the only way in and out of Gonaives. Despite the problems, aid worker Joe Hurston made his way through this newly formed lake, bringing water filtration systems to Gonaives.
JOE HURSTON, Air Mobile Ministries:
The number one need, right now and has been since the night that storm hit, has been water. My concern is that people are drinking this water, and indeed they are. The long term effect of that is going to be dreadful. Many, many people will die as a direct result of drinking this water.
So we have two trucks that are going. And how many security guards do you have?
In total we are 46 guys, 46 soldiers and three officers.
Perera says CARE's primary goal is to prevent a famine.
This is Care's main warehouse in Gonaives, which is the worst affected area of the flooding. We have something on the order of 1,500 tons of food in here and we're shipping out a huge amount. Every day we have about 10 trucks going out to distribution points. They're heavily guarded. We have a contingent of U.N. security troops that accompanies each shipment of food.
Aid workers need that protection. Tensions have increased as hunger has set in. This truck was left unattended right outside Care's warehouse, and looters wasted no time stealing food and water.
And at food distribution centers, like this one just outside Gonaives, the situation grows more desperate. Women wait in line for hours under the hot sun, close to the barbed wire protecting the area. They are surrounded by U.N. peacekeeping troops; still they have to shove and push to get food. U.N. peacekeepers watch over the food distribution centers, but there is no protection for these women after they collect their ration of food and begin their journey home. They often become the target of men who stand outside the perimeter, waiting to steal food from those who made it to the front of the line.
Perera says aid workers also have to be careful not to make the Haitians dependent upon them.
For the short term, we may provide food just on an all comers basis. But it's important not to create a mentality that we're just here to hand out things.
Two months after the storm, relief workers are seeing some small signs of recovery. Fruit stands are beginning to reappear, and ice markets are once again dealing in big blocks of ice — a primary source of refrigeration here.
The water level is down significantly. Even a week ago people were still walking in knee high water in streets like this one. The smell used to be far worse. You really couldn't walk around here without a mask or something in front of your face. A lot of people were buying limes to hold in front of their noses because of the stench.
Perera hopes to build on the progress that's been made by putting Haitians to work. That's a vast improvement since two-thirds of Haitians did not have regular jobs before the storms.
Over the medium, the long term, we're going to start introducing things like food for work programs, which means people will do some work helping to clean up and rebuild in exchange for food, or cash for work, or even tools and building materials for work.
But these efforts have not satisfied rebel leaders. They recently demanded the interim government rebuild Gonaives, or face a revolt like the one that forced Aristide out of power. In return, they offered to help U.N. troops stabilize the region. Without stability there will be no international aid, and without that aid, there's slim chance of truly transforming Haiti. Until they get that aid, Perera puts his faith in the Haitian people.
People really want to rebuild their homes. Even the people who are living in shelters during the day, they go back to their house and try to clean up as best they can. So I think if we help give people the means to rebuild their own lives, they are more than willing to do the work that's necessary.
For now, Andre Jacques is willing to do the work that's necessary. His wife and their five children try to keep their spirits high with the hope that they will get the relief they need to recover.
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