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CHF’s Haiti Programs featured in Time Magazine

Published 01/12/2011 by Global Communities

Haiti, One Year Later: It’s the Rubble, Stupid!
By Tim Padgett, TIME Magazine

Each day, Feralia François trudges from her squalid Port-au-Prince tent camp to the mountain of stony debris that was once her middle class neighborhood of Delmas. The earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, reduced her house to a shell, and claimed her police officer son, Ali, among the 230,000 it killed. A year later, the 63-year-old matriarch still comes to stand guard against people dumping garbage on the rubble that holds her neighbors’ corpses deep inside its jaws of concrete and rebar, and which no one — not the government, the international community or the hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti — seems interested in removing. Picking at the flotsam of her entombed friends’ lives, a refrigerator, pages of a child’s multiplication tables, François feels that time stopped for her when it did for them. “Life hasn’t progressed at all since the earthquake,” she murmurs. Says a neighbor, Georgina Jean, 26, “For us, every morning when we wake up and see this, it’s still Jan. 12, 2010.”
Nearby, however, in the Ravine Pintade bidonville, or slum, Emma Labrousse is singing. With an $8 million grant from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), two American NGOs, Cooperative Housing Foundation International (CHF) and Project Concern International (PCI), have helped connect Ravine Pintade to running water, set up a health clinic, installed latrines and built a daycare center. Most important, they’ve rented heavy machinery, and employed local workers, to extract the tons of rubble choking the bidonville’s entrances and arteries. Kids are playing soccer again, and residents can expect sturdy, temporary housing, or “t-shelters,” in the coming months. “We can move around, we feel like the country is turning around,” says Labrousse, 63, who lost a teenaged daughter to the quake but is belting out hymns today inside her tiny local church. “We’re living again.”
Unfortunately, on the first anniversary of one of history’s worst natural disasters, François’ despair is still vastly more common among Haitians than Labrousse’s optimism. The quake drew a remarkable emergency response from the international community. It also prompted ambitious plans to reconstruct, even reinvent, the hemisphere’s poorest nation — to “build it back better,” as the mantra went. “But the recovery process really hasn’t begun yet,” argues Leslie Voltaire, an urban architect and presidential candidate. Two-thirds of the 1.5 million Haitians left homeless by the quake still live in tents, and fewer than half the 45,000 t-shelters that the U.N. and other housing organizations had hoped to build by now have been erected.
The biggest impediment to the reconstruction is the most basic. “Nothing can really be done,” Voltaire notes, “until the rubble is removed.” And only 5% of the up to 22 million cubic yards of heavy debris has been tackled. While it took more than two years to clear less than half that amount of rubble from the Indonesian province of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, at the current rate of removal it could take another 19 years to clear Haiti.
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