Haitians Criticize Government Rebuilding Efforts

Haiti's prime minister says his government is doing the best it can, six weeks after an earthquake devastated the country and its capital, Port-au-Prince. But for many on the streets of the capital, the government's best simply isn't good enough.

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It has been more than six weeks since an earthquake devastated Haitis capital, leaving at least a million people homeless. Now, the government is showing signs of stress, as it struggles to provide even basic services - food, water and shelter - for the displaced. Haitis prime minister says his government is doing the best it can.

But, as NPRs Carrie Kahn reports, for many on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the governments best simply isnt good enough.

CARRIE KAHN: Julio Joseph(ph) sells water bottles and soda cans out of a cracked and dirty ice cooler on the street in the teeming homeless encampment Jeanmas(ph) next to the shattered national palace. Josephs cooler sits right in front of the shack he has cobbled together and lives in with six other people.

Mr. JULIO JOSEPH: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says the government hasnt given him anything. Food and water was distributed here from international aid groups. And the TARP that covers his tiny shack he bought for 800 gourdes, about $20.

(Soundbite of radio)

KAHN: And the crank radio that many here received for free he bought off someone for 300 gourdes, about seven and a half dollars. I asked him if he had the chance to tell the prime minister of Haiti anything, what would he say?

Mr. JOSEPH: (Through translator) We are sleeping here on the streets. We are not living well. Flies are everywhere. We dont have anything here. But we want him to act quickly because we cant live like that for long.

Unidentified Woman: Hi.

Unidentified Man: Hi.

KAHN: Carrie. Very nice to meet you.

KAHN: On the patio of the prime ministers damaged residence high on the road overlooking Port-au-Princes hillsides, I asked Jean-Max Bellerive whats his reply to Mr. Joseph.

Mr. JEAN-MAX BELLERIVE (Minister, Planning and External Cooperation, Haiti): So, the only thing, my only answer is that yes, were working to bring improvement to your life but it will take time. It will take time because it would be tough.

KAHN: Bellerive, who was educated in Europe, says everyone has to keep in mind that in just 30 seconds last month his countrys economic output was slashed almost in half.

Mr. BELLERIVE: So, its not a challenge that one government is going to resolve. It will take several governments.

KAHN: Bellerive says he envisions a future where the country not only rebuilds but also reforms. And as hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid begin streaming into the country, many hope this is the moment to fix Haitis economic and political problems that have kept it the poorest in the hemisphere. But if this weeks events are any indication, it appears that even a catastrophe as big as the January 12th earthquake can unite Haitis contentious political camps.

Mr. YOURI LATORTUE (Senator, Haiti): We are elected people and we have the right to ask question to the government. They dont answer.

KAHN: Senator Youri Latortue says the opposition is being left out of major decisions. He heads a commission that is trying to remove both the prime minister and the president. Former Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis who was ousted from her post last November says the oppositions stand is preposterous.

Ms. MICHELE PIERRE-LOUIS (Former Prime Minister, Haiti): We have enough of those talk about changing this, changing there, transition here, transition there. It doesnt make sense to me and its not going to solve any problem.

KAHN: The opposition doesnt have the votes to go through with their threats. But as the infighting continues, the Haitian people wait for help.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

KAHN: I went back to the huge encampment at Jeanmas to talk to Julio Joseph, the homeless man. I told him that in response to his question, the prime minister said he needs to be more patient.

Mr. JOSEPH: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Joseph says hes not surprised by the answer. He says the government always tells them to wait. His eyes are sunken and sad and his shirt hangs on his skinny frame. He looks at me and says, I lost everything and now I have nothing. Theres no way to start over. What else can I do now but stay here and wait.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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