Haitians Forge Ahead As Quake Recovery Drags On

Presidential palace in Port-Au-Prince i i

hide captionHaitians walk by the crumbled presidential palace in Port-au Prince. Nine months have passed since the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5million people homeless and destroyed much of the capital.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR
Presidential palace in Port-Au-Prince

Haitians walk by the crumbled presidential palace in Port-au Prince. Nine months have passed since the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5million people homeless and destroyed much of the capital.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR

In Haiti, nine months have passed since a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless and destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Caribbean nation has made some progress in recovering from the quake, but much more remains to be done. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in camps. Rubble fills many neighborhoods. Demolition remains a top priority, but by some estimates the cleanup process alone could take years.

Even the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince is still waiting to be torn down. Behind a wrought-iron fence and a long green lawn, the compound's white domes are collapsing in on themselves.

'We Haven't Benefited At All'

Fab Gladys i i

hide captionFab Gladys lives in the sprawling tent camp located in Champs de Mars, across the street from the collapsed Presidential Palace.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR
Fab Gladys

Fab Gladys lives in the sprawling tent camp located in Champs de Mars, across the street from the collapsed Presidential Palace.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR

Across the street, tens of thousands of earthquake victims are living in makeshift huts, many of which are also falling in on themselves.

Fab Gladys says she's been there since Jan. 12, the day the quake hit.

"The water runs right under us. We could be sleeping here and not knowing that it rains. You wake up and you see the water is running right under you," she says.

Gladys' shack, where she lives with her seven children, is a patchwork of tarps and plastic sheeting stretched over a rough timber frame. She says that when it rains she puts a plastic washbasin over her baby to keep the child dry.

The area used to be a park.

On a recent day, Leonard Joseph, the coordinator of a local environmental group, points to the piles of garbage and the stagnant green puddles in what used to be a fountain.

"Look at this," Joseph says. "The kids bathe here. They play here. They play soccer here."

Leonard Joseph i i

hide captionLeonard Joseph is a camp coordinator at Champs de Mars.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR
Leonard Joseph

Leonard Joseph is a camp coordinator at Champs de Mars.

Valentina Pasquali for NPR

He says the conditions in this camp are inhumane.

"We've heard that the government has received millions of dollars, and aid groups have received millions of dollars for Haiti," Joseph says. "But when we compare it to the conditions we are living in here, it doesn't make sense. We haven't benefited at all."

While the living conditions in the camp are difficult, they are better than in the weeks immediately after the quake. Now, at least, there are portable toilets and communal taps with running water. Small shops have sprung up selling pasta, bleach and cigarettes.

A vendor winds his way down the narrow alleyways between the huts. He's hawking mirrors, combs, hair gel and other beauty products. Young boys sell small plastic pouches of drinking water. Kids kick a ball. Teenagers flirt.

Next month, the school year restarts nationwide.

Much Work Still To Be Done

Amid the chaos, people are moving forward with their daily lives. But the challenges ahead for Haiti remain huge.

Nine months after the quake, aid groups have built only 13,000 transitional shelters for the roughly 1.5 million people left homeless.

Unemployment, by some estimates, is more than 80 percent.

Workers clear rubble from a collapsed building in Port-au-Prince

hide captionWorkers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, clear rubble from a collapsed building using buckets in August in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Demolition and rubble removal remain top priorities, but by some estimates the cleanup process alone could take years.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rubble removal remains a major task. Across the city, men scamper over collapsed buildings, breaking them apart with sledgehammers. And throughout the capital, people dump wheelbarrow loads of debris along the main roads where it's eventually picked up in trucks.

Basic infrastructure is functioning. Although severely damaged, the airport operates. There's no reliable electricity, but the cell phones work. At the port, cargo is unloaded on temporary floating barges.

A giant industrial crane lies half-submerged in the harbor. Before the quake, the port used to be able to unload seven ships at a time. But now, with the piers destroyed, the floating docks can only accommodate four vessels.

Hugues Desgranges is an adviser to the port director.

"Right now, they're using the ship's crane to unload. It takes a longer time when you're using the ship's crane," he says.

In addition to this logistical bottleneck at the port, many aid agencies say the relief supplies and building materials they're trying to move into the country get tied up in Haitian customs — sometimes for months.

National Plan Needed

Desgranges says Haiti is at a crucial moment in its history.

"I think Haiti needs to make choices. For example, I think the Dominican Republic made them. They chose to do tourism. If you go to Punta Cana, they exploit it and it works," he says.

Desgranges says you can't build a successful country on humanitarian aid. Haiti, he says, has to figure out what it wants to be.

"We need to have a national plan," he says.

Haiti didn't just wake up one day and decide it wanted to be the poorest country in the hemisphere, Desgranges says. But without a plan for what exactly it's going to be, he says the rebuilding of the country lacks focus and direction.

Not all of the news out of Haiti is bad right now. Partners in Health just broke ground on a state-of-the-art teaching hospital about 90 minutes outside the capital. Most of the major streets in Port-au-Prince have been cleared of rubble, making the city more accessible. Many government agencies, whose offices were destroyed have relocated, and are operating again. And so far this season, the hurricanes have stayed away from the battered nation.

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