Help For Haiti Slow, Frustrating

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Even for a country that has long experienced disaster, poverty and loss, 2010 was a traumatic year for Haiti. "Certainly, in Haiti there's a great sense of frustration that things are moving slowly," NPR's Jason Beaubien tells Liane Hansen. "There's very much a rift that … Haiti could fall off the radar." Haitians are not in a position on their own to rebuild the country, he says, and the pace this last year was so slow, that Haiti could be stuck in limbo waiting for international assistance.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Even before this year began, Haiti was the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere. Its citizens were mired in poverty; some were reduced to eating dirt. It was hard to imagine that conditions could get worse - then came January 12th.

(Soundbite of news clip)

ROBERT SIEGEL: In Haiti this evening, people are searching for loved ones and digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings. That following a major earthquake today. The 7.0 magnitude quake has caused an unknown number of deaths and injuries on the impoverished island.

HANSEN: The death toll was later estimated to be more than 300,000. Thousands more were injured and homeless, left to survive in squalid tent camps. Then, a cholera epidemic struck the country and has killed at least 2,500 so far.

(Soundbite of people rioting)

HANSEN: And this month, violence spread after Haiti's disputed presidential election.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

HANSEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien was among a team of correspondents and producers who covered the earthquake. He described the emotionally wrenching scene that night to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host Melissa Block.

JASON BEAUBIEN: There's a girl right in front of me at the moment. She's covered in bandages. She's laying on just some, what are they, they're from the deck chairs that would be by the pool. She's naked except for what looks like a tablecloth on top of her. She keeps lifting her head and her lips are shaking. Sorry, Melissa.


BEAUBIEN: It's heartbreaking what's happening here.

HANSEN: Jason has continued to follow the story all year and joins us to look forward to the new year in Haiti. Hi, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

HANSEN: Always the first question. What kind of progress has been made to rebuild Haiti?

BEAUBIEN: What's so amazing at the moment is that the progress has really been the demolition. A year later, there's a lot of complaints inside Haiti that it's very slow. But the progress that has been made for the most part has been cleaning the rubble, clearing some places downtown, clearing plots of land -that's what the progress is at this point.

HANSEN: We have a clip of President Obama and what he had to say shortly after the earthquake.

President BARACK OBAMA: To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction - you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.

HANSEN: Jason Beaubien, have the U.S. and the international community been able to live up to their promises of financial aid and assistance?

BEAUBIEN: Certainly in Haiti there's a great sense of frustration that things are moving slowly. More than $10 billion was pledged from the international community. Less than a billion of that has actually come into the country over the last year. There's very much a risk that after this anniversary, Haiti could completely fall off the radar of the international community. And there's no way that Haiti's going to rebuild without that assistance from the international community.

They're not in a position to do it on their own and certainly there's going to be other disasters, other things that are going to pop up. And I think in Haiti there's very much a sense that the pace this last year was so slow that if that continues that Haiti could be stuck in this limbo waiting for this international aid to come at a time when there really isn't that much pressure for that to happen.

HANSEN: Again, billions of dollars were pledged to help. Money has come in. Who administers the money that comes in? I mean, the Haitian government is barely functional.

BEAUBIEN: There is a large consortium. It's called the Interim Haitian Reconstruction Commission. It's being headed by former President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive. They are administering billions of this money. They are overseeing sort of the biggest chunk. A lot of it is also in the hands of individual non-governmental organizations, aid groups.

HANSEN: The earthquake basically left whatever medical care there was in Haiti in ruins. A lot of people weren't treated for the injuries related to the quake. Then the cholera outbreak hit. I mean, what is the state of medical care in Haiti today?

BEAUBIEN: It's actually kind of strange. Medical care is actually better in Haiti now than it was before the quake. The number of international health care organizations that have come in - Doctors Without Borders and many others - are providing health care for free to the population at a level that they never were getting before the quake. So, that's sort of a perverse consequence of this.

At the same time, the cholera outbreak has put huge new strains on that system. This strain of cholera, this strain can kill people in a matter of hours. And so, now there's this need to have specialized cholera treatment facilities just about everywhere so that people, within a matter of hours, can get them. So, it's sort of a win on one hand and a loss on the other.

HANSEN: Has the cholera outbreak been curbed?

BEAUBIEN: No, and the problem is that it's clear that in a place like Haiti where the sanitation facilities are at times nonexistent, where getting clean water is one of the daily challenges that people face, that they're not going to be able to completely contain cholera and wipe it out. It's going to be in the country for years to come, people are saying.

HANSEN: And in the midst of all this, there was a presidential election and it is disputed. The recount is under way. Who's doing the recount and when do you think results can be expected?

BEAUBIEN: These election results were supposed to come out last week but that was sort of cancelled and just put off indefinitely. The final results were supposed to have been announced on the 20th. That didn't happen. The recount is being done by the provisional electoral council. This is also the same organization that has been accused of carrying out what many of the presidential candidates say was massive fraud during the original election. So, they're doing the recount.

Most of the candidates, however, are refusing to participate in this recount. At this point, it is very unclear how this is going to get sorted out.

HANSEN: And even if the process is over, you know, the likelihood, what is it, of the losing candidates accepting the results and then do you expect more violence?

BEAUBIEN: One candidate, Michel Martelly, if he does not win, his supporters pretty much are not going to accept anything else. They are the ones that took to the streets. They shut down to the capital of Port-au-Prince for almost a week. There were barricades in the streets. I mean, the city was entirely closed down and they believe their candidate should have won outright. If he doesn't win in some way, either through some negotiation or through some new election, they probably are not going to accept that.

It's a difficult situation and it's sort of a cloud that is hanging over Haiti at the moment. Because without a leader, without a president, the international community is not going to be willing to send those billions of dollars that have been pledged into an administration that, you know, either doesn't exist or is a transitional administration. So, this is a huge problem at the moment and it needs to get worked out.

HANSEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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