The three musketeers, US, France, and Canada are settling in for the long haul, but there is one job that must be taken care of immediately before the true pillage of the country can commence– they have to get those Aristide-supporting Haitians out of Port-au-Prince, one way or another.
FEBRUARY 26, 2010, 7:16 P.M. ET
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti—The government here has drafted a broad plan to remake the country after last month’s devastating earthquake, reducing the size of the capital and boosting other population centers in moves that would reverse two centuries of its history.
The plan, being hammered out in marathon meetings with scores of experts at a local hotel under repair, is planned to be presented to international donors at a conference in New York on March 31. In an interview Friday, Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive said the plan is aimed not only at repairing the earthquake damage, but also reinventing the country to try to cure some of the ills that have made it the western hemisphere’s poorest nation.
The plan envisions a decentralized country in which Haiti’s other cities and towns can offer jobs that in the past have only been available in Port-au-Prince, government officials said in interviews.
Meanwhile, the government is reversing course on a more immediate plan to house tens of thousands of people who remain homeless since the Jan. 12 quake. Initially, the Haitian government had planned to set up huge tent cities far from the devastated areas of the capital. Some spoke of setting up a city of as many as 100,000 people in Croix des Bouquets, a semi-rural area close to the capital.
Now, the government plans to return as many refugees as possible to the places they fled. They are also no longer stressing tents, which are unlikely to withstand the Haiti’s torrential rainy season that is expected to begin in earnest in early April. Instead, they are trying to distribute waterproof plastic tarpaulins that experts say can last for years, and can be more easily adapted into more permanent shelters.
“The strategy has shifted,” says Gerard Brun, an architect and partner in Haiti’s largest construction business, who is part of a government commission advising President René Préval on reconstruction.
Even before the earthquake, the annual rains brought with them deadly torrents from the mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince. Now, aside from the floods, doctors fear the rains could also unleash a slew of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and dengue fever, which could take a heavy toll in the capital’s crowded and unsanitary refugee camps.
Officials lay out a complicated procedure by which government workers will make a census of refugees, while engineers simultaneously determine what structures in shattered neighborhoods are safe and which must be demolished.
After completing both lists, they plan to move refugees into safe buildings while razing unsafe ones. They would entice refugees to return by distributing food, water and providing other services.
This week, officials began a pilot resettlement project. They are taking a census of the Champ de Mars, the esplanade by Haiti’s collapsed presidential palace, which Mr. Brun says is now home to upwards of 10,000 refugees.
They also began inspecting shattered buildings in the Turgaut area where Mr. Brun says as many as 80% of the Champ de Mars refugees came from. “The Champ de Mars is the number one priority project to clear due to sanitary reasons as well as symbolic reasons of prestige,” said Mr. Brun.
A quick canvassing of some 20 people living in tents on the Champ de Mars suggested that the resettlement may be more complicated, however.
None was from Turgaut. “People here are from all over,” said Emmanuel Leandre, a 50-year old artist and member of an ad-hoc committee set up by refugees to represent them. “They’ve got to find a way to move the people, and get them electricity, food and water.”
Even as the country tries to map out its future, it is making slow but steady progress along with the international community in caring for its people after the recent earthquake killed as many as 300,000 people—likely the worst natural disaster in modern times.
In the interview, Mr. Bellerive said the country is making steady progress, along with help from the international community, in caring for its people.
Mr. Bellerive said the country had moved on from “the total chaos” following the quake. “Now, it’s a controlled chaos,” he said, smiling.
More than a million people are sleeping on the streets of the devastated capital under sheets, tents and tarps that take up every inch of public space—even the concrete median strips of traffic-snarled roadways.
Another half-million people have fled to Haiti’s long-unproductive countryside and neglected regional cities. Mr. Bellerive says the government’s longterm plan to re-emphasize those areas is being drawn up with the cooperation of the international donors and nongovernmental organizations that traditionally play a key role in Haiti, often eclipsing the government in terms of budget and power.
But he says it’s important that it be a Haitian plan. “When we go to the donors’ conference, we will have a plan to say here’s where we want to be in three years, five years and 10 years,” says Mr. Bellerive. “We are willing to adapt the plan with the international community, but the basis is our vision of the future.”
Write to Jose de Cordoba at email@example.com