Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Rubble blocks road to rebuilding Haiti

By John Lantigua, Palm Beach Post

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — This collapsed capital does not look much different than it did the week after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

In the badly hit neighborhoods, large mounds of rubble remain, block after block and piles obstruct traffic.

“I don’t know why they haven’t done more to clean it up,” says Jackie St. Albans, 65, a Haitian-American and former U.S. Immigration Service employee in Miami, retired in Haiti. “There is rubble everywhere. It’s a problem and it is depressing for people to look at, day after day. You wonder what is going on. Where all the money that came into Haiti is going.”

Many Haitians feel the same. And now members of the U.S. Senate are also wondering. Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, issued a report harshly critical of the slow cleanup and rebuilding of Haiti, the stalled resettlement of displaced people, the failure to prepare for hurricanes, and the lack of coordination among foreign donors who pledged $5 billion to rebuild the country.

The report says the opportunity to remake Haiti from the “dysfunctional, unsustainable” nation it has been for years, is in danger of being lost.

The eight-page document was made public just as U.S. legislators must decide whether to authorize $2 billion to support the country’s reconstruction. The report finds no problem with the supply of water, food and medical care.

“Many immediate humanitarian relief priorities appear to have been met,” the report says, “(but) there are troubling signs that the recovery and longer term rebuilding activities are flagging.”

The document criticizes the government of Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, saying it has “not done an effective job of communicating to Haitians that it is in charge and ready to lead the rebuilding effort.”

Bellerive responded by saying that Haitian officials are working to ensure reconstruction does not simply mean the rebuilding of slums.

“We understand the impatience and we are the ones more frustrated than anybody,” he said.

The Senate committee’s frustration begins with the rate of cleanup.

“Five months after the earthquake, rubble blocks and slows travel on roads in many parts of Port-au-Prince, leading to horrific traffic congestion and continuing to make sections of the city impassable,” the report says. “Rubble removal is the first critical step towards reconstruction. It is a precursor to accessible roads, ports, airports, as well as improved infrastructure such as water, sewage and electrical systems.”

Dimitry Leger, spokesperson for the U.N. Development Program, which coordinates rubble removal, said parts of crumbled buildings were being removed every day, but critics don’t understand the extent of the task. Some 200,000 structures fell in the quake, creating 17 million cubic meters of rubble.

“We have only 300 dump trucks and each truck holds about eight cubic meters,” he said. “You have to fill a lot of trucks to remove 17 million cubic meters. We really need 1,500 trucks, but we don’t have the resources.”

Imogen Wall, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the 17 million figure “doesn’t count the fact that about 25 percent of the buildings still standing are too dangerous to inhabit and will also have to be demolished and removed.”

She said the rubble removal goes slowly because much of it proceeds in tight urban spaces where large equipment often can’t be used. Instead, teams of workers break up chunks of concrete and throw them into dump trucks.

Some 100,000 Haitians worked in rubble removal at least part of the time during the past five months. They are paid $5 per day.

“At the current rate, it is going to take six years to clean it all out,” Wall said.

Wall and Leger said the cleanup is being handled in part by the Haitian government, private firms both Haitian and foreign, and by international organizations.

One of the main problems is finding where to dump the rubble, which can not be used in reconstruction until it is recycled.

“We have two sites right now, but we will need many more,” Leger said.

The problem of finding land is the same difficulty encountered in relocating people left homeless by the quake — the Haitian government has little land and must rely on private owners reluctant to make land available, at least for the prices being offered.

In the U.S. and Western Europe, laws of eminent domain exist, allowing government to take private land for public use and pay the owner fair compensation.

“There is no tradition of that here,” said Leger. “And no one can do it by fiat.”

He says government leaders and the private sector are negotiating, but in a country where the central government has been weak, it will be difficult.

Meanwhile, the removal of the rubble continues at its slow pace. The depressing mounds of rubble are still there, day after day. Haitians believe the cleanup money is simply being stolen by persons with influence.

Walls says another problem the work crews encounter is that, in some collapsed buildings, they encounter dead bodies.

“Then the whole process must stop while the remains are dealt with properly,” says Wall. “That takes time.”

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