“What the Earthquake Did Not Bring Down, the Rains Will” – More on Grand Plans for Haiti

Posted on March 2, 2010


“While grand planning is necessary, officials say, the effort is stealing resources from efforts to shelter the homeless from the upcoming storm season.”

‘What the Earthquake Did Not Bring Down, the Rains Will’

Published: March 2, 2010

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — More than 300 people are living in tents on the community soccer field here, one of the better-off suburbs of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The camp teems with children and pregnant women who take refuge in a concession stand in storms. A World Vision medical clinic is the only link here to the massive relief operations that arose in the wake of the powerful earthquake that devastated the country Jan. 12.

“Every person here needs help,” said James Tabuteau, 22, a college student who took refuge in the camp after he lost his home in the earthquake. “We need food. We can’t find anything to eat. We need water, we need toilets, we need anything you can use for life.”

Tabuteau is among some 1.2 million Haitians left homeless and vulnerable as the rainy season approaches with storms that figure to send deadly mud waves down hillsides stripped bare by years of deforestation. And then there will be the hurricane season, which begins in June.

“We will certainly have landslides,” said Edmond Mulet, the new top representative for the United Nations here. “What the earthquake did not bring down, the rains will, because all the hillsides are very fragile now.”

More than 200 years of poverty and environmental degradation had left Haiti more vulnerable to storms and natural disasters than most. But the earthquake leveled the nation’s institutions. It destroyed almost all colleges and schools in the Port-au-Prince area, reduced churches to rubble, flattened government offices and police stations.

So it is up to aid workers to figure out how to quickly move more than 240,000 families out of flimsy shelters and into storm-resistant quarters. Meanwhile, the Haitian government is ordering a massive national damage assessment and rebuilding plan on a scale that dwarfs the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries.

Said Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, “This is a chance for Haiti to grab this opportunity to redefine its future.”

Keen to take advantage of a large international presence in Haiti and a New York donors conference scheduled for March 31, Haitian authorities have given the United Nations and aid workers three weeks to review the needs of the entire country, not just quake-hit areas.

With the post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) and a dollar figure for that work in hand, Haitian President René Préval plans to ask international donors to not only protect his people from floods and hurricanes but to rebuild Haiti from the ground up — with new roads, factories, stronger buildings and more productive farms.

Such a gargantuan effort is straining the capabilities of the world’s disaster-response and recovery capabilities, as Haiti’s predicament drifts from the headlines, relief officials say.

“We’re talking about a recovery process that’s 10 to 15 years,” said Nicole Rencoret, an official with the U.N. Development Programme. “How the hell do you come up with that in two to three weeks?”

It is not even clear who will represent the Haitian government during the recovery. Many of Haiti’s best civil servants — those who were still at their desks past 4 p.m. when the earthquake struck — are dead, and the surviving leaders are more famous for forcing six changes to government in as many years. And though Préval is nominally in charge his government, he is facing a constitutional crisis — two-thirds of parliamentary terms end in May and the president himself has only a year left to serve.

If enough long-term support can be reached, Haiti could be renewed, ending 25 years of dependence on foreign aid. If not, the homeless at the camp here say they will take matters into their own hands, rebuilding Port-au-Prince and other cities in the flimsy manner they had before the earthquake.

“We can’t live in a situation like this,” said Pierre Louis Rock Jolibois, the community leader at the Petionville camp. “Waiting is a bad thing.”

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