US & World

Haiti Rebuilds At Faster Pace Outside Capital

People around their home at approximately the time one year ago a massive earthquake jolted the city on Jan. 12, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
People around their home at approximately the time one year ago a massive earthquake jolted the city on Jan. 12, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A year after a devastating earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian government and many aid groups say the recovery in the capital is proceeding at an extremely slow pace.

But near the epicenter of the quake, just 20 miles southwest of the capital, in the city of Leogane, things appear to be moving much faster.

Tens of thousands of quake victims are still living in camps in the area. But progress is visible. Unlike in the capital, much of downtown Leogane has been bulldozed flat. Small transitional shelters built by international aid groups are scattered all over the place — again, a sight that's not that common in Port-au-Prince.

And while there are still complaints about a lack of coordination for the reconstruction effort, people in Leogane are actively trying to shape the future of their city.

On a recent day, Max Maturin, the director of CURL, or Citizens United for the Rebuilding of Leogane, is on a stage near the center of the city. The meeting is a brainstorming session about how to rebuild Leogane.

Maturin says his group wants to come up with a master plan for the city quickly.

One year after the quake, all the quake-damaged buildings should have been demolished and the rubble removed, he says.

"Here we are in downtown, and there are still some sections that are not yet cleared," he says. "Some sections are still in the same condition as right after the quake."

Compared to the pace of rubble removal in Port-au-Prince, however, Leogane is moving incredibly fast. By various estimates, 90 percent to 95 percent of the earthquake debris in the capital has yet to be hauled away.

Demolition was easier in Leogane, in part because it's a smaller city and there was plenty of space nearby to dump the rubble.

While most of Port-au-Prince hasn't yet gotten to reconstruction, here in Leogane, Kisnel Louis-Charles complains that the construction is too haphazard.

"It's strange that each aid group comes up with its own kind of housing," Louis-Charles says. "They should work together to come up with a plan to rebuild the city. The complete city not just a single street; it's not the proper way to work."

Almost all the houses he's talking about are what aid groups call "transitional shelters," simple structures usually on a cement pad that are expected to last three to five years.

An estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless by the quake and, a year later, according to the United Nations, only 1,179 new permanent houses have been built nationwide.

Most of those permanent structures went up outside Port-au-Prince.

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, known as CAM, built 107 houses 15 miles farther west of Leogane, in the coastal city of Petit Goave.

Carlos Francois got one of the two-room cement buildings. He says people are really happy with the houses they're getting from CAM — and that they prefer the concrete to the plywood walls of other shelters because they feel stronger.

It's been easier to put up new shelters in smaller cities like Petit Goave because land titles are clearer. In Port-au-Prince, where the majority of residents were renters, there have been bitter disputes over who actually owns particular plots.

Francois got one house from CAM, but because he has seven children he's applied for another house from ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

This infuriates his neighbor, Marie Michel Noelsaint. Her rambling, cinder-block house didn't fall down in the quake, but long cracks scar most of the walls. She still sleeps in it with her three kids because, she says, she has no other choice.

"I'm so frustrated, because I'm a victim as well, but they don't want to give me the house," Noelsaint says. "I'm so worried, and with all those cracks, that if another earthquake happened, me and my children could die inside the house."

With millions of dollars in donations for housing backed up in the aid pipeline, relief groups are building wherever there's the least resistance. If a site is covered in debris or has a partially damaged house still sitting on it, they move on to someplace else. And the more complicated cases, such as that of the Noelsaint family, often fall through the cracks.

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