LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We now have an update on Haiti. It's been nine months since the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless, and destroyed much of the capital.

The Caribbean nation has made some progress, but many people are still living in camps, and clearing away the wreckage will take months, possibly years.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has been traveling to Haiti since the earthquake hit and he has this report from his most recent visit.

(Soundbite of bells)

JASON BEAUBIEN: 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 compounds white domes are collapsing in on themselves. 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 shes been here since the 12th of January.

Ms. FAB GLADYS: (Through translator) Yes, the water runs right under us and we could be sleeping here and not knowing that it rains, and you wake up and you see the water is just running right under you.

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

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BEAUBIEN: This area used to be a park.

Mr. LEONARD JOSEPH (Environmental Group Coordinator): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Leonard Joseph, the coordinator of a local environmental group, is pointing 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. He says the conditions in this camp are inhumane.

Mr. LEONARD JOSEPH: (Creole spoken)

BEAUBIEN: 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're living in here, it doesn't make sense. We haven't benefited at all.

While the living conditions in the camp are difficult, they're 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, cigarettes.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: 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.

Amidst the chaos, people are moving forward with their daily lives. But the challenges ahead for Haiti remain huge. Aid groups have only built 13,000 transitional shelters for the roughly 1.5 million people left homeless. Unemployment, by some estimates, is over 80 percent.

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.

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

Mr. HUGUES DESGRANGES (Adviser to Port Director): As you can see, you see that crane there? That's what happened in the earthquake (unintelligible) in the water.

BEAUBIEN: Hugues Desgranges is an adviser to the port director. He's pointing out a giant industrial crane that's 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.

Mr. DESGRANGES: Right now they're using the ship's crane to unload. So it takes a longer time when you're using the ship's crane.

BEAUBIEN: 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.

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

Mr. DESGRANGES: I think Haiti needs to make choices. For example, I think the Dominican Republic made them. They chose to do tourisms and they took the course, if you go to Punta Cana (unintelligible) and it works.

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

Mr. DESGRANGES: We need to have a national plan.

BEAUBIEN: He says Haiti didn't just wake up one day and decide it wanted to be the poorest country in the hemisphere. 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.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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