Little Improvement at Haiti's Epicentre

Published on
by
Al Jazeera English

Little Improvement at Haiti's Epicentre

by
Rob Reynolds

If you ask, where did all the money for Haiti go, one answer is: not
here.

When the earthquake rumbled up from the earth directly below
Leogane, 20,000-30,000 people were killed, and 80 to 90 per cent of the
town's concrete buildings were reduced to rubble.

And, chunk by
chunk, shovelful by shovelful, that's some of the rubble that Saint-Fort
Mackenson and the other members of his work crew are clearing away. 

Mackenson, a thin young man with a mop of plaited hair, pauses to
lean on his shovel and wipe the sweat from his face.

"It's very
hard work to to clear this debris," he says in Kriyol, the
French-related language of Haiti, "because we are using only our hands.
We don't have any machinery. "

Their wages, paid by an aid
organisation, are $5 a day. "The money that they pay is not enough for
our needs," Mackenson said with a shrug. Still, its a job - something
few people in Leogane have these days.

'Do-it-yourself'
reconstruction

Reconstruction, many people here have
concluded, will be a do-it-yourself job. In a few places, we saw men
rebuilding houses, but nothing on the massive scale that would be needed
to re-house the town's population. The builders said they've given up
on any hope of help from the UN, the US, or the international aid
community.

Leogane may
have been at the epicentre of the earthquake but it hasn't been at the
centre of attention in the six months since then. Many people here feel
virtually forgotten.

The Place St Rose camp in the centre of town
has become a semi-permanent home to more than 3,000 people. Its full of
half-naked children and harried-looking women.

Jean Romuald
Ferdinand showed us around the narrow, filth-strewn passageways that
wind through the camp. He's one of the community leaders, and he's
disappointed with how little has been done to help his neighbours:

"Since
the earthquake we've heard so many promises. We know that billions of
dollars have flowed into the country. But we don't see any changes so
far."

As Ferdinand spoke, women washing and braiding
each other's hair nearby nodded and muttered in agreement.

He
continued:

"I thought after January we had an
opportunity to change things but, from my point of view, we missed that
opportunity. Based on how they have been handling the relief effort, I
am pretty sure this country is not going anywhere."

Ferdinand
said the biggest single need for his neighbours was adequate shelter.
Right now, their dwellings are made from plastic sheets stretched over
scavenged scraps of wood and a few bits of corrugated metal. These huts
will be smashed flat by the first hurricane winds to blow through.

Bodies
under debris

We caught up with Leogane's burly mayor,
Alec Santos, outside the tent where he has been living, next to his
badly damaged two-story home. He said from his perspective, it looks
like the earthquake might have happened yesterday.

"My
town is still under debris. For crying out loud, there are still some
dead bodies under those buildings," said Santos, a former real estate
developer who lived in Brooklyn for a decade and served in the US Army.
He, too, cited the discrepancy between the aid money pledged or provided
by the international community and paucity of progress on the ground:

"I
heard there was so many millions going to Haiti, but I haven't seen it.
I've heard a lot of promises. Promises, promises, promises. I'm hoping
in the next few months I'll see some results."

If
things haven't improved much for most people here, for some, they may be
about to get worse.

Evictions

Inside a
sweltering hut outside of town, we met Aurelien Joseph feeding porridge
to Marie Jose, the youngest of his four children. The family has lived
here, on privately owned land, since the earthquake, along with hundreds
of others. Now, Joseph said, they have only a few days till they will
be evicted.

"We have been occupying this private land
because my house was destroyed and I didn't have anywhere to go. Now the
owner is asking us to leave the land. And I don't know where to go."

Many
of Leogane's churches were badly damaged by the quake, but that hasn't
stopped people from worshiping. On a weekday afternoon recently,
hundreds of people packed a new church set up in a large tent near the
city's central square. They sang, clapped and twirled their rosaries as a
lay deacon led a procession around the altar, holding high a
representation of the crucified Christ. 

In the past six months,
many visitors have admired the Haitian people's great resilience,
perseverance, and unswerving religious faith. In the end those qualities
may be worth much more than the millions of dollars in aid - money that
so far has done little to help them rebuild their lives.

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