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Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert

The new normal

Haiti | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti-All around the growing piles of dangerous rubble and the squalor of rotting trash in the streets of their capital city, Haitians are living the new normal: In the shadow of a collapsed house, a woman gives a young man a haircut. On the outskirts of a park-turned-tent-city for thousands of displaced people near downtown, a little boy flies a kite made from string and a piece of trash. And near another squalid camp, reeking of trash and human waste, and filled with thousands of homeless people in the city's central plaza-the Champs de Mars-a man sells basic supplies: small cans of deodorant and cooking oil.

But some sights of normal life are hard to process: Near a broken water main, a little girl scoops filthy water and takes big sips from her small hands. On a side street near the collapsed Presidential Palace, the body of a dead man lies face-up in the street, while a skinny man with a wheelbarrow filled with sticks steers around the bloodied corpse.

As life and death continue their morbid mingling in Haiti, relief groups forge ahead to serve thousands, and try to find thousands more waiting for help in a country where coordinating response to a disaster of this magnitude turns into a earth-moving feat itself.

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Many of the thousands needing help are in Cité Soleil, the largest slum in Port-au-Prince, just north of downtown. Conditions here were miserable before the earthquake, but on a hot afternoon walking the streets, they seem unbearable: A dry riverbed is packed and overflowing with stinking trash. Pitiful shacks leveled by the earthquake lie on the sides of streets. Since the whole area is treeless, children squeeze into small patches of shade cast by tiny tents.

When workers from Samaritan's Purse approach a sprawling tent city formed after the earthquake, a small crowd presses around, perhaps curious but certainly needy. Jean Claude, an elder at Eglise Chretienne Des Cities, a local church with some 1,600 attendees, says many come to the broken gate of the church each day seeking help. He says they need food, water, and clothes. The church has little to give, and tells them to wait for help.

Each day at locations around the city, non-profit groups ranging from the massive World Health Organization to the smaller, Washington, D.C.-based Food for the Hungry meet to coordinate the best way to offer that help. They exchange information-where they've been, what they plan, and what needs are most acute. They try to avoid duplicating efforts or researching information already discovered.

But that process may change in coming days: At a meeting Friday morning at a UN station in Port-au-Prince, a Haitian government official interrupted the proceedings, demanding that groups notify them of their plans for relief efforts. It's not clear if relief groups will comply-or how serious the demand was-but the incident raises concerns: Will a government notorious for its corruption pollute a process designed to help its own people?

Whatever the government response, Jean Claude, the elder at the church in Cité Soleil, says his church is determined to offer the people of his community whatever material help it can as its able. In the meantime, he says they will continue to offer spiritual help that is sure: "We will knock, and we know the Lord will open the door."

Related coverage:

'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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