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Haitians Press On Amid Slow Pace Of Quake Recovery

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Haitians Press On Amid Slow Pace Of Quake Recovery

Latin America

Haitians Press On Amid Slow Pace Of Quake Recovery

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

It's been six months since Haiti was rocked by that massive earthquake. Americans have donated more than a billion dollars for Haiti and thousands of charities are helping with the recovery effort. Despite the influx of dollars and foreigners, more than a million and a half people remain homeless, living in tents or under tarps. Plans to move them into more suitable housing seem months, maybe years, away.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: At Port-au-Prince's County Club, now home to more than 5,000 earthquake victims living in makeshift tents, life grinds on.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

KAHN: Kids run and play on dirt paths; women gather drinking water from stations set up by aid agencies; and hammers pound away. Residents continually repair tattered tarps and wobbly scrap-wood frames, which are taking a beating now that the rainy season is in full force.

MARIE JULES ST: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Marie Jules St. Julius takes us to what's left of her shanty.

JULES ST: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: So she pulls back a door that's a tarp and all you see is strings, ropes, because her tarp is shredded.

JULES ST: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She lost her tarp to a recent windstorm. She's sleeping with a neighbor now, but she had to send her two children to live with relatives in the countryside.

JULES ST: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She says life without them is unbearable.

More than one and a half people still live in more than a thousand encampments that sprouted up after the January 12 earthquake. At the MFD camp, off a main thoroughfare in Haiti's capital, 44-year-old Foufoun Cherie and her six children share a shanty with a neighbor.

Cherie's cotton bright orange shirt hangs off her frail frame. She pulls out a burlap sack from under one of two beds in the tiny tent. She says she sleeps with her children on it. Cherie says through an interpreter that aid groups have come by to help out, but she hasn't eaten in three days.

FOUFOUN CHERIE: (Through translator) There was one time one of them came, and I asked them for a tent, but there was no tent.

KAHN: Despite the billions of dollars pledged to Haiti since the quake, it's not hard to find earthquake survivors struggling to locate food and shelter. The government asked aid groups at the end of April to stop food distribution, saying the free handouts were undercutting local markets. And charities say Haiti's notorious customs office is delaying the release of material to build sturdier homes.

Julie Sell, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, says despite the challenges, aid groups have made progress in the past six months. She points to the lack of major disease outbreaks or mass hunger.

JULIE SELL: I know as you look around you feel like there are all sorts of things that money could be spent on.

KAHN: But Sell says the money must be spent wisely. The American Red Cross received the lion's share of donations from U.S. residents - about half a billion dollars. One-third was used for emergency relief and Sell says the rest will be put to good use too.

SELL: We have said that we will be in Haiti until every dollar donated for Haiti is spent, and we're estimating that will be another three to five years at least.

KAHN: You have a lot of money still in the bank.

SELL: We do. And we're trying to spend that as wisely as possible.

KAHN: The criticism of the slow pace of recovery in Haiti is mounting. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently released a report blasting aid groups for not coordinating recovery efforts better. And Democrat John Kerry criticized Haiti's leaders for not making the difficult decisions needed to move forward faster.

And most critical is finding suitable relocation sites to build housing for the 1.5 million homeless. Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, says such a plan takes time and can't be done to the whim of every foreign aid group.

JEAN: I'm not going to take the property of the government, of the state, just to give to people that just tell me that they need land. I have to understand better what is your plan.

KAHN: Then there's the problem of removing all the debris left from the quake. With only one official site identified in the country and not enough heavy machinery, the U.N. estimates that at the current rate it will take more than a decade to clear Port-au-Prince streets of rubble.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

KAHN: Much of the debris is being removed by hand crews, like this one at MFD camp in Port-au-Prince. The American Red Cross pays camp residents about $4 a day to clear rubble from a storm drainage channel. Before the quake, most Haitians lived on less than $2 a day.

With brand new garden gloves and tools, a couple of dozen workers sing songs as they sweep and shovel cement blocks, boulders and dirt into wheelbarrows.

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)

KAHN: While the work gives residents much-needed money for food, the government says the work-for-cash programs are drawing even more people into the congested capital and overcrowded camps. Timo Luege works for a U.N. agency coordinating foreign aid groups.

TIMO LUEGE: You can always criticize everyone; you can criticize us. You know, it's - criticism is easy. Finding a solution is far more difficult.

KAHN: He says solutions are coming. His group is working to help recover lost land titles and is even drawing up rental agreements for displaced renters. Some residents complain they've been asked to pay six months' back rent when trying to re-inhabit former houses. But even when land issues are worked out, delays continue.

At this relocation camp nine miles north of Port-au-Prince, rows of blue tents house more than 5,000 earthquake survivors.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN SINGING)

KAHN: Foreign aid groups, including World Vision and Oxfam, have set up a children's library, built latrines, showers, and water stations atop the rocky, windswept ground. The charities had hoped to move some families out of tents by now and into sturdier homes made of wood with steel frames.

Mary Kate MacIsaac of World Vision says they've only been able to build two temporary shelter models here. She says camp residents didn't like the first model and neither did some of her donors.

MARY KATE MACISAAC: This here, the wooden wall - do you know there are some donors who consider that permanent housing, so they've said, oops, you're building with plywood? Sorry. We don't want you to do that with our funds.

KAHN: MacIsaac said it took a few weeks to convince donors that wood and steel was vital if the houses were going to withstand hurricane-strength winds. And then it was a couple more weeks before camp residents like Abekay Robert got on board.

ABEKAY ROBERT: (Through translator) If my house didn't have two doors when the earthquake hit, I could have died. I was going to go to the front door and then I saw that it collapsed, so I ran to the back.

People: (Singing in foreign language)

KAHN: Back at the MFD camp, residents sing songs(ph) and try to escape the intense summer heat inside a tiny cinder block church. Like so many hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors, days are filled with church, washing clothes and a lot of waiting.

American Red Cross spokeswoman Julie Sells says she wishes the reconstruction was moving faster.

SELL: You can have a lot of money and a lot of skill and a lot of resources standing by ready to help, but sorting out a solution can be a very complex thing to do.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

LOUISE KELLY: You can see a breakdown of the charitable giving and spending at our website, NPR.org.

People: (Singing in foreign language)

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