Six Months Later, Basic Aid Still Scarce In Haiti

Six months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, aid workers say food, water and medical care remain scarce on the island, where some 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. Pierre Brisson, a businessman who lives outside Port au Prince, tells Michele Norris the pace of reconstruction is slow.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

More than 200,000 dead, two million homeless, and an already shaky economy brought tumbling down. All this began six months ago in Haiti. On January 12th, an earthquake of historic proportions tore apart the area around the nation's capitol, Port-au-Prince. Despite outpourings of aid from nations, organizations and individuals, recovery in Haiti is proceeding slowly.

Two days after the quake, we spoke to Pierre Brisson, a Haitian businessman who lives outside Port-au-Prince. He described the horror of those early days.

PIERRE BRISSON: We're still stunned by what happened. I'm afraid of the reaction as time goes by, where needs will be greater and despair will set in.

NORRIS: Six months have gone by and Mr. Brisson joins us again on his Skype line just outside Port-au-Prince. Welcome back to the program.

BRISSON: Hi, Michele. How are you?

NORRIS: Good. Good. Good. I was wondering what it was like for you to hear your voice six months ago at a moment where there was so much desperation.

BRISSON: You know, it was a little sad to hear that because that was just two days, and it was still like the first day at the time. Fortunately, things have moved up a little, while business is slowly picking up, banks are open, services like electrical power is back as before with all its limitations. And the traffic is crazy. What can I say?

NORRIS: Hmm.

BRISSON: Everyone is trying to survive, not really knowing what's next. But we are trying.

NORRIS: You know, for so many people there are certain pictures that are fixed in their mind from the hours and the days immediately after the quake. It's interesting to hear you describe life as it is now. What would we see if we visited your neighborhood?

BRISSON: Still a lot of broken down houses, a lot of mud from the streets and people clearing up. I must say that I believe that the government has done a good job on that aspect. But, you know, what's hard is the difficulty to live with the daily spectacle of the catastrophe. And to live with the will to continue to live in the weight of powerlessness - that is hard these days.

NORRIS: I bet it's the small things that probably mean a lot to you right now, just the process of putting a key in the lock to open the door at your business everyday probably is something that has great significance.

BRISSON: Absolutely. This is - you know, the first day that I did that, to me it meant that, well, life was back. The day that the workers came in was a very important day for all of us. Most of the workers still live in tents but they had money when we opened, the first paycheck to buy things, small things that they needed - small things but important things. And it's signs that life is continuing.

NORRIS: You know, I hear so much about this spirit of the Haitian people. What keeps them going despite all of the terrible things that you obviously still see everywhere you look?

BRISSON: We have had 200 years of trying to survive, to fight to survive. And to me, that's what keeps the Haitians going. We have always struggled. That's perhaps is good that we had that history, otherwise I don't know what we would have done. But in spite of all our misery we are still standing.

NORRIS: Mr. Brisson, thank you very much, all the best to you.

BRISSON: It's been a pleasure talking to you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was Haitian businessman Pierre Brisson. He was speaking to us via Skype from his office near Port-au-Prince.

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