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Associated Press/Photo by Alexandre Meneghini

Enough firsts already

Haitians are ready to get on with cleanup

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Six months after Haiti's devastating earthquake, members of an international commission responsible for managing every foreign aid dollar took a much-needed step: They held their first meeting.

The 26 members of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission-led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive-gathered in a cracked hotel in Port-au-Prince on June 17. Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born historian at the University of Virginia, said the commission's slow progress is symptomatic: "There is a feeling among Haitians that the situation is stagnant at best, and may be deteriorating."

Evidence abounds in Port-au-Prince: The collapsed presidential palace remains split wide open and baking in the searing sun, with no signs of rubble removal, much less repair. Mountains of rubble remain piled stories high in the capital city, with some aid groups reporting that decaying bodies remain trapped inside. Fatton finds that reality maddening. "I can understand that there is very little in terms of long-term plans for the country," he says. "But in terms of immediate work-that seems incomprehensible."

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With the first hurricane of the Atlantic season arriving early, the commission approved only three projects in June, and didn't publicly mention rubble removal, an obvious overdue step to many Haitians. In the meantime, relief groups are moving forward: Samaritan's Purse (SP) hauled heavy-moving equipment to Haitian ports on barges, and workers have moved some 44,500 cubic feet of rubble from areas around Leogane, the quake's epicenter. "What you are going to build back-and how you are going to build it-are legitimate questions," says Ken Isaacs, vice president of projects for SP. "But you're not going to build anything back if you don't get the rubble up."

Even building temporary shelters for hundreds of thousands of Haitians packed into miserable tent cities has stumped the government: By early June, officials had approved only two sites for transitional housing. By that time, aid workers for the Salvation Army, including 400 hired Haitians, had built 600 transitional units in Jacmel. SP workers had built more than 1,500 units, and Habitat for Humanity planned to build 125,000 transitional shelters within a year.

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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