Post Quake, People Returning To Haiti's Capital After the January earthquake, more than half a million people fled Port-au-Prince for other parts of the country. The government vowed to take the opportunity to shrink the city to a more manageable size. But there are indications the city is growing again.

Post Quake, People Returning To Haiti's Capital

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125431881/125451677" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To Port-au-Prince now. Since 1980, the population of Haiti's capital has almost tripled, leading other cities to complain that the country's wealth and power are too concentrated there. Six-hundred thousand people left the Port-au-Prince region after the quake and the government says it would now like to keep the city at a manageable size. That may be easier said than done.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, already there are signs that the capital is growing again.

(Soundbite of city)

MARTIN KASTE: It has to be said that there are no official numbers on this yet. Aid agencies are still counting the residents of the city's homeless camps, and the U.N. says it just doesn't know how many of those people have come back since the quake. But there are other ways to gauge migration, such as coming down to the city's improvised bus terminal. Buses built on rugged truck chassis pull in from all over the country here. France Dupuis drives the route from the southwestern city of Miragoane.

Mr. FRANCE DUPUIS: (Through translator) After one week, after January 12, people start coming start to come back, but like, small group, and now it's a big, a big�amount.

KASTE: Dupuis says he's noticed the buses getting more crowded just in the past week or so. As the returnees step off the buses, they're welcomed back to the capital by the stench of raw sewage mingled with the haze of burning garbage. It's the smell made by hundreds of thousands of human beings camping in the streets and parks of a ruined city.

And, yet, Dupuis says people want to be here.

Mr. DUPUIS: (Through translator) It's not good for them to come back, because there's no space for them to be comfortable, to have latrines, to have a place to sleep. But it's worse in the provinces, so that's why a lot of them are coming back.

KASTE: And, in fact, when you ask people why they're returning, they seem puzzled by the question.

Mr. LIONEL DESLIME: (Speaking foreign language)

KASTE: I came back for work, says Lionel Desilme(ph), a slight young man lugging a heavy bag. The lack of shelter in Port-au-Prince doesn't seem to be an issue for him.

Mr. DESLIME: (Speaking foreign language)

KASTE: It doesn't bother me, he says, because if everybody is sleeping in tents, then I don't mind sleeping in a tent, too.

For Haitians who have long thought Port-au-Prince was too big, a reverse migration would be bad news. Youri Latortue is a member of the Haitian Senate.

Mr. YOURI LATORTUE (Senator, Haiti): There is no food for these people in Port-au-Prince, there is no food for these people in the countryside. That's the problem.

KASTE: Latortue represents the province of Artibonite, which received well over 100,000 people after the earthquake. But hes convinced that that migration is now reversing itself because of all the international aid that's concentrated in Port-au-Prince.

Mr. LATORTUE: They give food in Port-au-Prince, when they give food in Port-au-Prince, people in Gonaives and Cap-Haitien and Artibonite, they come back in Port-au-Prince because they can't find food in the countryside.

KASTE: But there is some food in the countryside. Antoine Renard of the U.N.'s World Food Program says rations have reached 530,000 of the estimated 600,000 people who fled to the provinces.

Mr. ANTOINE RENARD (U.N. World Food Program): So, what we�doing is that we're actually following people to where they are settled now, and we're trying to provide the support that we can.

KASTE: Renard says it's not the World Food Program's mission, though, to keep people from moving back to the city. After all, he says, Haitians are still free to move wherever they want. But for the broader�international aid effort, shrinking Port-au-Prince is the long-term goal.

Bill Holbrook is the country director for the American aid group Mercy Corps.

Mr. BILL HOLBROOK (Mercy Corps): I mean, the healthiest thing that could happen to this country and the surest measure of success in the future would be a meaningful deconstruction and decentralization of Port-au-Prince.

KASTE: So, Mercy Corps and others are now shifting their emphasis to the countryside, with job creation and job training programs. They hope to revitalize farming and light industry in the provinces, and give Haitians an alternative to seeking their fortune in the shattered, crowded capital.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.