Haiti, Three Months After Disastrous Earthquake

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Homeless Haitians now face a new wave of danger: the onset of the rainy season, and potentially deadly floods. Haitian-American writer Sylvana Joseph, Suzy DeFrancis of the American Red Cross and Claude Jeudy of Habitat for Humanity talk about how the country is preparing for the rainy season.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

In the past several weeks, major earthquakes struck Chile, China and the California-Mexico border, but by far the worst devastated Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti almost 100 days ago.

We'll probably never know the exact number of those killed and injured, except that the total soared into the hundreds of thousands. Something like a million were left homeless. Some moved out of the capital to live with friends and family in the countryside, but many, many Haitians continue to live in tents, under tarps and in makeshift shelters fabricated from garbage bags.

With the rainy season expected to start in earnest any day now and the prospect of hurricanes not too far off, officials and humanitarian groups know they are in a race against time.

Later in the program, Richard Stengel joins us to recount lessons learned in the years he spent with Nelson Mandela, as they collaborated on his autobiography.

But first, if you have family in Haiti, how are they doing? Or if you have questions about what kind of help is needed now, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Sylvana Joseph joins us now from a studio in Charlotte. She's a Haitian-American writer and lawyer based in New Orleans. And it's nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. SYLVANA JOSEPH (Writer; Lawyer): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And the last time we talked with you, you were still you'd located some members of your family. Others, though, were still missing.

Ms. JOSEPH: That's right, and as of last week, we have located 12 members of my family. Eight are still missing, but unfortunately, we lost a family member that I didn't even know was missing the last time I spoke to you in January. She actually succumbed to a massive coronary three weeks after the earthquake.

CONAN: And that's obviously not going to be counted in the earthquake statistics, but: A, I'm terribly sorry to hear about that, and yes, it is an earthquake statistic.

Ms. JOSEPH: It is an earthquake statistic because we know after what happened in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that we lost many more people after the earthquake from strokes and heart attacks and general depression. We know that domestic violence soared. We know that substance abuse soared.

So, I mean, you're looking at the initial statistic of almost 300,000 and probably more dead, but you're going to see at least another 100,000 succumb within the next two to three years of ancillary conditions like this.

CONAN: In part, other members of your family worrying about those eight people you still can't find.

Ms. JOSEPH: Oh yeah, oh yeah. We're constantly you know, we're constantly worried. But I mean, it becomes part of your everyday condition. For the ex-pats, you go on every day with the knowledge that you don't know where your family members are and trying to do what you can for the people that you can help.

And I mean, people ask me all the time: What can we do for your family specifically? And I said: You can help Haiti at large, and hopefully, that will help my family.

CONAN: Are they in Port-au-Prince? Have they moved upcountry? Where are they?

Ms. JOSEPH: Well, you know, some of them have left Port-au-Prince. The ones that were in Port-au-Prince have left Port-au-Prince. A lot of my family were actually in the provinces, but people are affected in the provinces, too, and that story is really not getting told as much.

People have gone back to the rural areas, and those places were already in dire straits to begin with. That's why people left them and came to Port-au-Prince, and now they've got this influx of population, and they have people who are injured, and you know, they've also suffered damage. So it's just a compounded situation.

CONAN: And are they well-situated for the onset of the rainy season?

Ms. JOSEPH: Some are, some aren't. I mean, the people that are in Port-au-Prince are not well-situated at all. No one is there. I mean, you know, everyone is concerned about people that are living in tents, people that are living in half of their homes.

I mean, in addition to the people that lost their homes completely, there are many more people that are just living in the wreckage of their former homes. And we're concerned that not only are the tents going to be kind of blown away and washed away but that the structures that are standing now are going to be weakened by the rain, and you might see mudslides and even more kind of secondary crumbling of buildings.

CONAN: Is anybody working? Is the economy up in any sense at all?

Ms. JOSEPH: Well, you know, where there are people, there's an economy. So there is somewhat of an economy. People are getting things together. They're trying to sell things, and I mean, people need to live.

But in some ways, it's extortionate. I mean, the price of gasoline is outrageous. The price of all different kinds of things, of fruits and vegetables, in some places are four and five times what they have been.

So you've got that side of the spectrum, where people are looking to make an extraordinary deal on this situation. And you have the other side of the spectrum, where people are coming together to share whatever resources they have, which is the side that is really going to help the country rebuild.

CONAN: And I am sure there are many frustrations, but among them, what's paramount?

Ms. JOSEPH: You know, nature. I mean, as we're seeing in Iceland, nature is the biggest frustration. I mean, you can throw as much money and we need money. I mean, there's not enough money to get to people quickly enough and to all of the places where people are affected quickly enough.

But also, you know, we can't there's only so much you can do against nature. The rains are coming. They've already started. The middle of May is the peak of the rainy season, and you know, the major thing that everyone is concerned about in Haiti now is people getting washed away and is the extraordinary spread of disease: typhoid, TB, cholera, all kinds of things like that. And also just people getting miscellaneous cuts that will become infected because they're rolling around in mud. So that's, you know, that's the first five.

CONAN: And all of those things can be exacerbated by malnutrition. Are people getting enough food?

Ms. JOSEPH: No, people aren't getting enough food. I mean, people are standing in line for hours for one bowl of rice and a bottle of water, which they then take back and share with, you know, three children and their spouse.

So no, people aren't getting enough food, but you know, it's almost as if my cousins that have been going on these relief efforts to Haiti are saying food is almost the least of it. I mean, the adults will get food, and they will share it with their children. People will share food, I mean, but they're really concerned about the rain and the spread of disease and kind of just getting some sort of shelter going so that they can survive the next eight weeks.

CONAN: Well, Sylvana, we'll continue to check in with you. Thanks so much for your time today.

Ms. JOSEPH: Thank you so much.

CONAN: And good luck to those eight members of your family that we haven't found yet.

Ms. JOSEPH: Thank you very much, and everybody else's family members, also.

CONAN: Sure. Sylvana Joseph is a Haitian-American writer and lawyer based in New Orleans, with us today from a studio in Charlotte, 800-989-8255. If you have family in Haiti, how are they doing? Also if you'd like to know how to help at this point, 800-989-82555, email talk@npr.org.

And Ernest(ph) is on the line from Fort Lauderdale.

ERNEST (Caller): Hi. I would like to say that my family, they're doing fine. I was fortunate, actually, to have most of my family members doing okay. I did lose a cousin. So I consider myself grateful because I hear all these tragic stories of friends losing their entire families.

CONAN: And that's great to hear, Ernest. I'm sorry about your cousin. But the rest of your family, did they seem to be in a good situation for the rainy season?

ERNEST: For this yes, you can say that. I mean, although some of the times, they're still scared to sleep inside because they don't know when another earthquake if another earthquake is coming. But all in all, they're in okay spirits.

CONAN: Good. Ernest, thanks very much for the update, and we wish them continued good luck.

ERNEST: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And also with us now is Cara(ph), Cara with us from Gainesville in Florida. Cara? Cara? I guess Cara's left us.

Anyway, let me introduce our guest here in the studio, Suzy DeFrancis, chief public affairs officer for the American Red Cross, and it's nice of you to come on with us today.

Ms. SUZY DeFRANCIS (Chief Public Affairs Officer, American Red Cross): Thank you, it's nice to be here.

CONAN: And you were last in Haiti...?

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Yes, in March.

CONAN: In March.

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Visited there. I saw great need, as you all have been discussing, but I also saw progress that's being made. Just visually, when you drive through there, and you look at the camps, if you remember in the early days, we saw most people just had bed sheets, little forts almost set up, and now most everyone has some kind of a tent or a tarp over their head. And that's thanks to the generosity of the American public and the aid organizations that have been there distributing these.

Now, other signs of progress include the fact that we're seeing some commerce on the streets, which we didn't see before. We're seeing people out selling everything from food to furniture to you name it. And so the economy is springing up a bit, but frankly, there just isn't enough cash or people out buying things to really jumpstart it.

But I do believe that most people there are now getting food and water, which was a very desperate situation in the beginning, and this is according to the U.N. is reporting that most people are getting food and water.

The schools have been officially reopened, which is a good sign, but we still have a long way to go in Haiti and a lot of concern, as has been expressed, about the rainy season because tents and tarps in the rain, they leak, and it's a difficult situation for people living in these encampments.

Now, we are trying to mitigate that by digging trenches, elevating the latrines, giving early warning to people who are particularly in vulnerable areas where there might be flooding, moving them out of those more vulnerable areas into camps where the terrain is better and teaching people first aid and how to take care of each other.

Amazingly, you're seeing people within the camps coming forward and learning this training and then teaching it to others. So the Haitian people are incredibly resilient. That's another thing I noticed. And thanks to the compassion of the American public and the resiliency of the people of Haiti, they're moving forward.

CONAN: Is Sylvana Joseph right to worry about the prospects of disease accompanying the rains with...

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Absolutely. That's a big concern of ours. As you may know, we launched, along with other organizations, a very extensive vaccination campaign, which reached about half a million people. And I think that's one reason that so far, knock on wood, we haven't seen a bigger epidemic there.

CONAN: But there are nine million people in Haiti.

Ms. DeFRANCIS: There are nine million people in Haiti and 1.3 million homeless in Port-au-Prince. So it's a lot to reach. Now, one other thing that the American Red Cross is doing is we're doing a lot of education around malaria.

Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in malaria in Haiti, and what we're distributing, obviously, with all of our relief supplies are mosquito nets. And we're encouraging people, teaching them how to put the nets on and to use them. And these are the kinds of disease prevention measures that we're taking.

CONAN: Stay with us if you would, Suzy DeFrancis, chief public affairs officer of the American Red Cross. In a few minutes, we'll also take you to Haiti and talk with the director of Habitat for Humanity about their progress in rebuilding and your calls.

If you have family in Haiti, how are they doing? Also, if you'd like to know how best to help now. Is it time for volunteers? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Floods are an annual worry for Haitians. Much of the country has very few trees to absorb, slow or redirect water after heavy rains, and to hold the soil in place.

With hundreds of thousands now living under tents or tarps in low-lying areas, or along steep hillsides, the risks this year are greater than ever. Aid groups and Haitian government hope to relocate people a second time before the rainy season hits its peak next month.

We're talking today about progress in Haiti nearly three months after the earthquake. If you have family there, how are they doing? If you have questions about what kind of help is needed now, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Suzy DeFrancis, who serves as chief public affairs officer for the American Red Cross. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Jean-Pierre(ph), Jean-Pierre with us from Kansas City.

JEAN-PIERRE (Caller): Yes, thank you, Conan, for having me today. I'm a listener of your show. I'm glad to be on today. Thank you.

CONAN: Well, thank you for calling us. What's the situation with your family?

JEAN-PIERRE: The family are doing okay. We did not have any deaths, but they lost their housing and everything. A lot of them are still in the street. The ones we can help, we help.

But the help we're providing to Haiti, a lot of the help is not staying there. Over 80 percent of the help, of the money, stays in the Western countries or where the providers were, which means the money is helping, but it's not helping much.

The second thing I'd like to say is when you have the author from New Orleans who was speaking, it was about a death. I know 10 or 12 people who died just after the earthquake but who did not get anything, did not get hurt through the earthquake, because of the stress and the depression that comes after that. So people are still dying. We will never know how many people who died in that fashion.

CONAN: When you talk...

JEAN-PIERRE: The other thing go ahead.

CONAN: Can I ask just a question about clarification, the aid organizations - you mean they're buying supplies in the United States or in wherever and then shipping them into Haiti as opposed to buying those supplies in Haiti?

JEAN-PIERRE: That is correct - with one exception. We have the British-based charity, Oxfam, that is buying local product and just redistribute that, which is great, which is the proper model, assuming you can find the things you need to buy in Haiti to help...

CONAN: Assuming...

JEAN-PIERRE: ...people find work and create jobs.

CONAN: Well, let's ask Suzy DeFrancis of the American Red Cross. Is this a valid criticism?

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Well, I don't think it's really a criticism. The goal is to get people the assistance they need as soon as possible. When the earthquake struck in Haiti, we were fortunate to have a pre-stocked warehouse in Panama filled with blankets and tarps and hygiene kits and things like that.

So yes, we brought them into Haiti because the needs were there, and we are continuing to do that, to bring in materials to build more permanent housing, to build water and sanitation systems.

Now, do we want to get the economy of Haiti back up and running? Absolutely, and that's why we're also giving money to microfinance loans, to help small businesses get restarted. We are helping host families who have taken in people. So in addition to maybe having a family of five, they've now got a family of 10. We're giving them money to cover that.

So yes, you want to get to a point where the Haitian people are more self-sufficient, and certainly that will also empower them psychologically. The fact that they can begin to look after themselves and their families is very important as we move forward into the recovery phrase of this disaster.

CONAN: And Jean-Pierre, there was one other thing you wanted to say.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, yes. Thank you for the (unintelligible). I appreciate your qualification and this new way of working, which is what the people really need, because the thing I'm concerned about is the fact that we are destroying the culture of work in Haiti, because we have always knew, we always knew in the past, Haiti is a hard place, but if you study hard, you work hard, you will do okay in life. You will do okay in life. And providing everything to everyone is destroying the culture of life, of work in the country.

And the second the third thing I'd like to add is, all the financial aid that is going to Haiti will not help unless it goes toward helping companies to stand up on their feet to create jobs, because when once people have money, they can do whatever they want or choose to do, but if not, it won't be much, because Haiti has been a hole. You can take one trillion bucks today, you dump it into Haiti, you will not see what happens.

CONAN: Jean-Pierre...

JEAN-PIERRE: And all the aid organizations have been there. Every church in the U.S. has some type of work being done in Haiti. A lot of NGOs are working against one another on the ground. So you don't see what is being done really. So it's help, but help the person help themselves. That's what I think the country needs and nothing else. Thank you.

CONAN: Jean-Pierre, thanks very much for your time, and we wish your family continued luck.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to Port-au-Prince in Haiti and Claude Jeudy. He's the national director for Habitat for Humanity Haiti. And it's good to have you with us today. Claude Jeudy, are you there?

Mr. CLAUDE JEUDY (National Director, Habitat for Humanity Haiti): I'm there. Neal Conan, thank you for giving me this great opportunity to share.

CONAN: And good of you to be with us. Can you tell us the progress in helping people find shelter?

Mr. JEUDY: Great. As you know, we have been been (unintelligible). In the very beginning, we saw a lot of (unintelligible). Fortunately, we are making good progress because a lot of people now can have a temporary shelter where they can stay, protect themselves against the rainy season. So a lot of emergency shelter kits have been distributed.

We have just about 8,500. We are on our way to distribute more than 13,000 in the next couple weeks, and there are some traditional shelters pending in some provinces like Leogane and (unintelligible). We are on our way to multiply our efforts in order to provide the affected families a decent place to live, in order for them to live safely when the rainy season is coming.

CONAN: When can we move past the phase of emergency housing, emergency shelter, and on towards real reconstruction?

Mr. JEUDY: As you know, we have rubble in the streets. We need to clean (unintelligible) ready to build permanent houses. So we provide those key shelters in order for them to (unintelligible) enough against possible disaster like flooding or hurricane or possibly other earthquake.

So once we finish with the cleanup, once we receive the land ready to build, we'll be able to provide the permanent shelters.

CONAN: But that's still some time away.

Mr. JEUDY: Oh, I'm talking about the next two or three months.

CONAN: Okay. One question, I think, that a lot of people in this country have. As schools and universities come to the end of the year, so many people would like to go to Haiti to help. Are you and Habitat for Humanity ready to accept volunteers?

Mr. JEUDY: We will not be able to accept volunteers before next year. As I told you before, we need to clean. We have to remove all the rubble and prepare the land for the permanent construction. We'll need street levels, but it will be more helpful to receive them next year instead to having them here because today the land is not ready yet to build permanent homes (unintelligible).

The permanent homes could not build right away. We need to clean up, and the volunteers will be more than welcome in the next couple of months.

CONAN: Claude Jeudy of Habitat for Humanity Haiti. Let me put that same question to you, Suzy DeFrancis of the American Red Cross. Is it time for volunteers?

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Well, first of all, let me say that Habitat for Humanity is doing a fantastic job there, and they are a partner of ours. We just gave them a $3.8 million grant for shelters down there.

But I agree with the statement made. Right now the most important thing that people can do for Haiti is to contribute donations, and the reason that we don't send a lot of volunteers from the U.S. down there is because, first of all, it is very difficult to house volunteers.

There's not much room. There are no hotels. They become another tent, another meal, another person to take care of rather than the earthquake victims who we're working on.

So the model we use at the American Red Cross is to send in a core team of highly trained disaster specialists who have been to a lot of international disasters, and they work with the Haitian Red Cross.

Now, remember, the Haitian Red Cross has thousands of volunteers, and they do speak Creole, and they are the neighbors of the people that they're helping, and they are the ones that go out and help us carry out the distributions, help us translate, help us do so much of the work.

So right now we don't encourage people to come down and volunteer, but we certainly appreciate the public support through donations on our website.

CONAN: Claude Jeudy, other than donations, what is your biggest need right now?

Mr. JEUDY: One of the biggest challenge we have is to find land and to find enough resources, because the needs are so huge. We need to impact as many families as we can, because before the earthquake we have one million housing deficit. But it has become worse after the earthquake. So two big challenges, find land and find resources to bring the response to the families affected.

CONAN: Claude Jeudy, we'll let you get back to work. Thank you so much for your time today.

Mr. JEUDY: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

CONAN: Claude Jeudy, national director of Habitat for Humanity, Haiti. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Junior(ph). Junior with us from West Palm Beach.

JUNIOR (Caller): Hi. How are you today?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

JUNIOR: I'm calling - I'm a first generation Haitian-American. And I just came back from visiting Haiti on March 30th because I had to bury my grandmother.

CONAN: I'm sorry.

JUNIOR: And I'm - oh, thank you. And the - another thing that's really going on now, economically, is, you know, there's a ton - Haiti makes -because of the infrastructure, the weak infrastructure, Haiti really depends on remittance from a lot of first generation and ex-patriots that live in the United States. And now, I'm living in South Florida now, and the employment situation being as it is, is a little bit unstable. And people, you know, don't have the same amount of hours at their jobs and have lost their jobs. And now, their remittance - the need for remittance has almost tripled at this point because the scarcity of goods and people have lost their homes and food.

So it's becoming such a stress on both sides of the water, right now. And you know, right now on both land masses that I'm noticing a lot of -I think your other guest was speaking about it - there are a lot of stresses that are going on even on this side.

I'm noticing there's a lot of family - more family members are going to the hospital for high blood pressure and what have you, because the constant strain of, how do I get money back to the people but I don't have enough to even feed myself at this point. So...

CONAN: Yeah. Just to clarify, remittances is the technical term for sending money back to the old country.

JUNIOR: Yes, sending money back home. Sending money back home to the family. What I would like to say is - make a comment is, I would really like to thank all the American people, as have neighbors and students of mine, and friends of mine who have contributed money and donations and canned goods and things like that. I mean, it's really - Haiti -Haitians are very self-sufficient people and a very self-reliant people. And, you know, the help that they've been getting here has really, really, really been beneficial to us because a lot of people have been able to get on their feet and have some sort of semblance of normalcy because of the aid that they've been getting from a lot of the American citizens, which has been great. And actually, for the first time in many, many decades, the U.S. government has been more hospitable than in the past and that's helped a great deal as well. So that was my comment.

CONAN: Junior, thanks very much. And we wish your family continued success.

JUNIOR: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about the situation in Haiti, an update as the rainy season there gets underway. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Suzy DeFrancis of the American Red Cross, that cannot be overemphasized enough - what Junior was talking about - the generosity of the people...

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Absolutely.

CONAN: ...not just in this country, but throughout the hemisphere, and indeed, around the world.

Ms. DeFRANCIS: We saw such an outpouring of support for the people of Haiti. I mean, we had contributions from big corporations and we had young children sending us a crumpled up dollar that they got from the tooth fairy. We saw an incredible generation - generational change in giving with our Text Haiti 90999. We saw almost 40 percent of those donations coming in from young people...

CONAN: Mm.

Ms. DeFRANCIS: ...which was very gratifying to see them, you know, reach out like that. So, you're right. The contributions of the American people have been incredible. And we want to make sure that every one of those dollars is put to wise use. Often, people say, well, how come you haven't spent the money already, because we raised about $400 million and we've spent about a quarter of that in the first 90 days. Well, the reason is that we want to make sure - not just speed - but that we're spending those dollars wisely so they'll have a lasting impact.

As a number of your callers have mentioned, the idea is not for aid groups to run in - dump and run - and get out of there. The idea is to allow the Haitian people to get back on their feet, to be more self-sufficient, to be able to have jobs. When we did a survey of some of the camps, that was the one thing they wanted most, was to get jobs back and cash so they can feed their family.

So we will be there for a long time. Every dollar donated to the Red Cross for Haiti is going to be spent in Haiti. And we have a plan, for the next three to five years, to use those funds both for permanent shelter, water and sanitation systems, and these kinds of loans and grants that help people get their livelihoods back, which is so important for them, mentally as well.

CONAN: Let's talk with Emmanuel(ph). Emmanuel calling us from Philadelphia.

EMMANUEL (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon. This is Emmanuel, yes.

CONAN: Yes, go ahead.

EMMANUEL: Yes. I'm calling - my name is Emmanuel Polection. I am the president and CEO of the Haitian Community Center - Help Center in Philadelphia. I am concerned - the reason I'm calling is because I just want to openly thank the American, you know, community for their help, their support. And secondly, I just had a conversation with one Haitian in Haiti, a young lady.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

EMMANUEL: She informed me that there is a place around Croix-des-Bouquets called L'agua(ph) is now under water.

CONAN: From the rain.

EMMANUEL: From the rain. Yes. Water gets at their knees all around L'agua. Since 3:00 in the morning, no one couldn't sleep because water was at the level of their knees. So I just, you know, sent that message. Maybe if anyone listening who may somehow bring help to the - this area, it's around, you know, where ex-President Aristide has his mansion.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

EMMANUEL: That's in this area. And also, we are we are working hard in Philadelphia to provide assistance to - last Saturday, we had to contingencies(ph) leaving Philadelphia to Haiti. So we are doing our part and we thank everyone who is helping. Myself, I was a victim, because - I am victim because I left Haiti on Friday on January, I think nine, and on Tuesday, the earthquake happened.

CONAN: Yes. Yes. And...

EMMANUEL: So I let...

CONAN: I don't mean to cut you off, Emmanuel, but we're running out of time. But I wanted to thank you for your call, and of course, the people from Haiti will thank you for that shipment when it arrives. And we -our heart goes to you and your family as well.

EMMANUEL: Oh, thank you.

CONAN: And his warning about the rainy season is well, well-taken. It's starting now. It will peak in May, then - well, rains will continue by July, August and you're worrying about hurricane. So Haiti is going to continue to need help. We'll continue to check in here on TALK OF THE NATION.

Suzy DeFrancis, thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. DeFRANCIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Suzy DeFrancis, the chief public affairs officer of the American Red Cross.

Coming up, lessons learned from the Great Nelson Mandela; on life, love and courage. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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