After 2 Years, Haitians Want Jobs, Not Housing

Haiti's earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and ruined the nation's infrastructure. On the second anniversary of the disaster, The Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles says the biggest challenge to recovery is unemployment. Host Michel Martin speaks with Charles and Donald Steinberg of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, if you have ever needed help from a home care aide or think you will, then you will want to stay tuned for our next conversation about a new proposal from the Obama administration that would determine how these workers must be paid. That's coming up a little later in the program.

But first, we want to go back to Haiti, because today is the second anniversary of the powerful earthquake that caused so much destruction there. It's a day that still seems impossible to forget.

RAYMOND JOSEPH: Part of the palace has collapsed. Part of the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Finance destroyed. There are a lot of flimsy houses on the hillsides around Port-au-Prince. I'm told that some of them have collapsed like cardboard.

MARTIN: That was then Haiti's Ambassador to the United States Raymond Joseph on NPR the day after the earthquake. The United Nations called it the largest urban disaster in modern history. Two years on, there's still much to do but there are some signs of progress.

So, to get a report on all of that we've called upon Donald Steinberg. He is the deputy administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development or USAID. He's worked in international development for nearly 30 years, including in Haiti. He's also a former ambassador to Angola. So, we'll be addressing him as such. Ambassador, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

DONALD STEINBERG: Delighted to be here.

MARTIN: And also with us once again from Haiti is Jacqueline Charles. She is the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald. She's been with us often over these last two years reporting on the aftermath of the quake and rebuilding ever since. She's with us from Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining us once again. Happy New Year to you as well.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And since you're there, I want to start by asking you, is the day being marked in any special way there?

CHARLES: Well, yes, the day is being marked by a lot of prayer, a lot of reflection. There is a commemoration ceremony at the mass gravesite. But I think what you find today is that Haitians are just taking stock. They're grateful to be happy, but also saying that this will be a day - January 12, 2010 - that they will never forget and that they should never forget.

MARTIN: You know, anniversaries often bring back a lot of feelings. And I just wondered is there kind of an overwhelming mood there that you would want to describe?

CHARLES: Sadness, sadness. I met this woman this morning and she did not lose anyone in the earthquake, but I thought that she really reflected what a lot of people were feeling. And she said that when she looks at the ruins surrounding her, she looks at the state of the country today, she just feels a great deal of sadness. But at the same time, there is still some sense of hope that it will be built because the feeling is that you have reached the bottom and that there is no other way but to go to the top.

So, I think Haitians are looking in anticipation of what's to come. They're starting to see some of these tent cities clear out and that they're hoping that next year what we will be talking about are the new houses that have gone up, that there is employment in the country and that the country is truly making a comeback.

MARTIN: To that, Ambassador Steinberg, what's your assessment of the pace of rebuilding there, or just the state of rebuilding there overall?

STEINBERG: Well, it's important to remember how serious a disaster this was. We had arguably the worst natural disaster in the Western hemisphere in recorded history. We had some 300,000 people die, including one-fifth of all the civil servants in the country. A similar number of houses were destroyed, along with virtually every government office building. A million and a half people were left without housing. And this came on top of a situation of mass poverty, political crisis, and a stratified society.

And then as the process of reconstruction began, we saw massive cholera epidemic hit Haiti and some tropical storms. And so, this is a classic situation of the glass half full, glass half empty approach. Yes, we still have a half a million people in temporary housing, but more than a million people have been resettled.

Yeah, the economy is in doldrums, but there's been a substantial increase in agricultural production. There's been creation of an industrial park that's probably going to employ about 65,000 people. We've had 6 percent growth over the last year. The health situation is still tragic, but we've seen a substantial increase in terms of basic health and sanitation projects. Most people, in fact, more people now have access to clean water and health than they did before the earthquake.

MARTIN: This isn't even a matter of going back to January 12th, this is - you're saying the point here is to get ahead of where things were before January 12th. And just briefly, if you would, ambassador, I think a lot of Americans would be interested to know, I mean, your agency awarded $1.3 billion in aid to Haiti after the earthquake. Briefly, can you just tell us what that money went to and are you satisfied with how it was used?

STEINBERG: It's still being used. And it can be divided into a large portion that was humanitarian assistance, which simply kept people alive - provided water, food, health services. And that effort was very successful. The effort to rebuild and, as you've suggested, we're trying to build back better has been a difficult one.

And one of the most positive things that we've seen over the last two years is a reassertion by the Haitians themselves of their own destiny. And so, what we've seen is civil society starting to re-blossom. We're starting to see business reach out to all sectors of the economy and foreign investment come in.

MARTIN: Well, hold that thought for a minute because I want to talk about that. We're checking in on progress in Haiti two years to the day after that devastating earthquake. We're speaking with Donald Steinberg. He's the deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He's also a former ambassador. Also with us, Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. She's with us from Port-au-Prince.

You know, our colleague Jason Beaubien spoke this past weekend with the president of Haiti Michel Martelly. He talked about his desire to, you know, move from aid to investment, as it were. I just want to play a short clip from Jason's interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

MICHEL MARTELLY: There are opportunities here. It's a matter of making everyone confident that Haiti is not just about problems. Haiti has its good side. And that's one of the things that we want to do is rebrand Haiti. Let the world know that, yes, we have our problems, but we have a great side, too, that needs to be exploited, that needs to be shown to the world.

MARTIN: Jacqueline, how's that going?

CHARLES: I have to tell you, I was listening to the ambassador and there are a couple issues that I want to point out and this is based on the reporting, you know, that I've done the last couple of days and also what I've seen since the 13th of January, 2010 when I arrived here. I think, yes, we can very much say that sanitation and water services increased at the height of, you know, the cholera epidemic. Soon after it came onboard you had trucks that were trucking in water into the camps. But today, the reports that are coming out, the surveys that are done, are saying that the conditions in these camps are deteriorating.

In fact, one humanitarian official here said to me that these camps are now a public health disaster in the making because people have to now purchase water. And while it's only a couple of cents, if you're not working, a couple of cents is a lot of money.

And so, when you go to these camps, you talk to people they talk about this. The fact that the latrines that used to get cleaned on the regular are hardly being cleaned at all, if they do get cleaned. Some of them are disappearing, some of them are broken.

So, today, the challenge is as aid organizations are starting to pull out, as the money that was raised for this disaster starts to decrease, what is going to happen because what we're dealing with today is the Haiti that existed before the 12th.

MARTIN: All right, well let's let the ambassador respond. Ambassador, what about that?

STEINBERG: I think she's exactly right. And the challenges we're facing with the 500,000 people who remain in displaced person's camps are tremendous. And it's health, it's employment, it's education. It's all of the challenges that you face in any one of these displaced situations.

MARTIN: But I'm wondering if, you know - if Haitians are getting fatigued. The New York Times reported that there were around 4,000 Haitians who've migrated to Brazil since the earthquake in search of jobs. Is this kind of a growing trend where people are looking to leave?

CHARLES: Yes. I think there is some reasons to be concerned. You know, after the 12th of January, I expected to start to see the boats leave Haiti and wash up on South Florida's shores, I mean, as we've seen many years when this country's in turmoil. But that did not happen. But today, we're seeing it's happening in Brazil. We're hearing reports about boats showing up in Cuba, Turks and Caicos, so there is a sense of people leaving.

MARTIN: Deputy administrator Steinberg, Ambassador, let's say we talk again in 10 years. What do you think we'll see?

STEINBERG: Well, it's an interesting question for me, in particular, because 10 years ago, I was the special Haiti coordinator for Bill Clinton. I do believe that we're on an upward path for Haiti. I do believe that there is substantial international interest. I think we recognize that Haiti is an important country for us. We have 1.2 million Haitians in the United States, Haitian Americans. They are going to remain a force for our continued attention.

I think people know that we have a billion dollars worth of exports that go to Haiti each year. It creates American jobs. And I think Americans remember the tragic situation of the boat people. They remember that Haiti has been, in the past, a transit point for drugs coming to the United States. They also remember that American forces have had to go to Haiti.

And so I think there will be a continued commitment on behalf of the American people to build back better. My hope is that, 10 years from now, that it will be a diminishing role for the international community and the quote that you had with President Martelly is - is indeed, instructive because I would argue that this is the single most representative and inclusive government in Haiti's history.

And they are developing capabilities in the health and education and agricultural sector. And the hope is that, if civil society, the business community and the government can come together, that the future can be bright.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now, but hopefully, we'll speak again and sooner than in 10 years. Donald Steinberg is the Deputy Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He's also a former ambassador, has a deep history in development in different capacities for nearly 30 years and he was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C.

With us from Port-au-Prince, the capitol of Haiti, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald's Caribbean correspondent.

I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

STEINBERG: Thank you.

CHARLES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, for the nearly two million workers who provide in-home care for older or disabled Americans, minimum wage and overtime pay are not guaranteed and labor activists, and now the Obama administration, say it is time for that to change.

SAM HANANEL: The nature of the work really has become much more to be taken seriously. It's not just playing cards or going for a walk with, you know, an older person.

MARTIN: But will the administration's plan to raise their wages cause more harm than good? We'll get a variety of views on that next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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