Reconstruction Zone: Chronicling Haiti's Post-Quake Struggles Reconstruction Zone: Chronicling Haiti's Post-Quake Struggles

Reconstruction Zone: Chronicling Haiti's Post-Quake Struggles

by Alex Goldmark

January 16, 2012

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The Neptunes are in better shape than most because of their connections with American donors. Two years later, they say they are almost back to where they started, able to help a tiny fraction people still living in tent camps. Like many Haitian nonprofit leaders, the Neptunes reacted to the disaster by working harder.  “I like what we are doing, it’s part of my heart," France says. "It’s hard for me at the same time, because I would like to do lots more for the people, but… we can’t reach everybody.”

Most of the people still living in tent camps are the poorest of the poor—those with no other options. The government has instituted what it calls the 16/6 plan, which calls for residents of six of the largest camps to be resettled into 16 neighborhoods that will be redeveloped. Some 30,000 residents are being offered financial assistance equaling about one year’s rent to move, a plan funded and coordinated in large part by international aid groups. Many outside observers are nervous about what will happen in a year when many of these vulnerable residents may find themselves unable to pay their new rent.

Relocation efforts often move residents beyond the borders of Port-au-Prince, to rebuilt villages or suburban neighborhoods. Camp Corail, which sits in a vacant desert 10 miles outside the capital, is the most ambitious relocation project, home to more than 10,000 people and growing. Corail is the country’s only official settlement, with plywood two-room homes neatly laid out on a grid.

Many of the residents arrived here when flood preparation and drainage construction forced them out of J/P HRO, one of the largest tent camps, which was run by Sean Penn’s charity. Other Corail residents came here hoping that a more formal camp would mean more reliable services. The government has touted an agreement to build a Korean factory nearby that would create 20,000 jobs, but it hasn't happened yet.

Last month, a conference organized by the Inter-American Development Bank courted international businesses to set up shop in Haiti. In addition to the much-awaited Korean garment factory, other multinational corporations are exploring setting up shop in the country. An industrial park currently under construction is expected to bring 80,000 jobs near Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city.

“I’m really hopeful,” says Patrick Dessources, a local representative of investment firm Root Capital. “2012 is going to be the year that will define Haiti, the year that will tell us, five years down the road, will we be better or not?”

France and Mallery Neptune are also upbeat in their cozy shipping container. They’ve received plenty of donations to rebuild the orphanage and make it bigger and better than it was before the quake. The new building will house about 25 kids and allow expansion of a business-training program for mothers who can’t afford to feed their children.

The orphanage rebuilding project, like many successful recovery efforts in Haiti, melds foreign generosity with local capacity-building. Today, some businesses are able to get loans and investment, foreign companies demonstrate some interest in setting up shop, and nonprofits like the Neptunes' orphanage are doubling down on their commitment to the poorest nation in the hemisphere. Six billion dollars in aid was pledged to Haiti after the quake by a mix of foreign governments and international charities, just over half of which has been spent. That won’t cover the $7.8 billion in damage caused, but it does mean there are still billions of dollars more in the pipeline for years of more recovery work. Most Haitians know that things were so bad before that there is a chance that the long, painful road toward recovery could make Haiti better than it was before the quake.

At Camp Corail, the U.N. Population Fund has installed solar streetligh, which don't entirely solve the safety issues they were designed to address. Corail resident Evette Pompiles likes the lights, but told me through a translator they don't make it safe in the camp. She still doesn’t go out at night, choosing to stay in her candlelit home. Another group of residents expressed anger that goes beyond the lights—one man said he felt like they were left to live like dogs. There’s no work 10 miles outside the city in a desert, no natural food source, and no commerce. The residents say they’re going to wait it out.

I left the camp at dusk, just before the vaunted solar street lights would turn on. Staring up the sandy hill, through this refugee Levittown of houses the color of dust, a few barely tended sunflowers stalks offered the only spots of color. The backdrop was a bald mountain, shaved of trees, scarred with landslides. There is hope here, because the camp could become a city with jobs if the factory manifests, but it also seems sadder than many of the more haphazard camps in the city. This place had lasting sadness because, unlike the other camps, it looks permanent.

Photos by Alex Goldmark

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Reconstruction Zone: Chronicling Haiti's Post-Quake Struggles