Half a year after Haiti shook, relief remains elusive - CTV News

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CTV News: Six months ago today, the ground shook under the impoverished Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, decimating the city and creating one of the most dire humanitarian crises in modern history.

But despite a huge outpouring of sympathy, and billions of dollars worth of pledges, in the weeks immediately following the quake, most of those displaced by the disaster remain in dire conditions.

Out of 1.5 million people left homeless by the disaster, less than 30,000 people have moved into new homes, according to estimates.

Meanwhile, in cramped tent cities, hundreds of thousands live in squalid, packed conditions. Elsewhere, some have been forced to return to their homes – many of the structures condemned and teetering on collapse.

"The rubble is still everywhere," said documentary filmmaker Nadine Pequeneza, who recently travelled back to Haiti after witnessing the destruction six months ago.

She told CTV.ca in a phone interview that clean-up efforts have been dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the destruction.

"It's hard to get excavating equipment, so it's all being done with shovels and pails and wheelbarrows, and people bringing the rubble down to a place where a truck can access it," she said.

"With the amount of rubble in the city, I've heard estimates anywhere from three to six years to remove the rubble with the kind of technology that they're using right now."

The clean-up has also been slowed because there is simply no place to put all the refuse. In short, the relief effort is stuck in a bottleneck; with bottlenecks comes frustration.

"The mood in the camps is very different from when we were first there," Pequeneza said.

"When we were there the first time, people were largely in shock. They were just grateful to see foreigners, knowing that people were coming to help them. And now, because of the slow pace of things, they're less welcoming and they're frustrated.

"They're at the end of their rope and they don't understand why the process is taking so long."

Though she is a foreigner, Yolanda van den Broek, a mental health psychologist with SOS Children's Villages in Haiti, is among those who are frustrated.

She said children who come to the village compound from outside must walk through visible reminders each day of the horror of the quake, such as crumbled homes and cobbled-together tent cities.

Many of the children who live at the village still refuse to sleep indoors, afraid another earth quake will hit during the night.

"At this moment it is very difficult," she told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

Red tape nightmares

The Haitian government, which was weak before the disaster, also seems swamped by logistics and held back by both internal and international politics. It's a balancing act that most governments would be hard-pressed to undertake, especially one which lost many key people and resources during the earthquake.

Indeed, Haitian President Rene Preval has been very reluctant to create new slums in order to get people out of the tents. The type of ideal home for Haitians has also been debated for months, frustrating even the likes of Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti.

In other situations, Preval's efforts have been misguided and slowed by micromanagement, critics say.

For example, the government has yet to build replacement shelters for thousands who have been camped out on the grounds of the wrecked National Palace in sweltering tents.

"No one, no government official, has come to speak to the people in that camp. There's 50,000 people there. They haven't seen or heard from a Haitian government person. They have no idea what's going on," said Pequeneza.

For Preval, a quick clean-up and resettling campaign in his own front yard was intended to show how quick and well-organized his administration is. Instead, bureaucracy has led to a smouldering embarrassment.

"Preval's government has been very weak," said Pequeneza, adding that obtaining new land is very difficult because much of the country is privately held.

"You have almost a feudal system in Haiti. The large majority of the land is owned privately."

So far, only one rubble site has been created by the government, and perplexingly, much of the ruins are considered private property.

Hope amid destruction

On the other hand, the situation could be worse: no major diseases have broken out in the camps, and large-scale violence has not erupted.

There are other encouraging developments, too, however small they may seem. One key example is the country's main airport, which was jammed with air traffic following the quake and became a symbol of international community's failure to respond rapidly.

Now, the airport appears to be well-organized and back to normal.

"It didn't have the number of U.S. troops around. There were far fewer soldiers and it was much more organized. There were rules: you couldn't walk all over the tarmac. It was a return to normalcy, in the way the airport was operating," said Pequeneza.

Earlier this year, Haitian planners and builders sketched out a plan that would make the nation more self-sufficient. Their efforts were bolstered at the end of March, when the international community pledged $5.3 billion in aid funds for the next 18 months.

Progress, though slow, has also been apparent on the ground.

"When we left, I think it was about 25 per cent of the camps in Port-au-Prince had some sort of emergency shelter. Most of them just had bed-sheets and things they put up themselves.

"But now when we went back you could see all of the camps were covered and there were seas of tarps and tents."

PTV Productions' "Inside Disaster" documentary team is following the International Red Cross and Red Crescent disaster relief team known as FACT (Field Assessment and Co-ordination Team).

The series will air on TVO, Canal D and CTV's ACCESS in Alberta in 2011 and is being produced with some funding from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the participation of the Canadian Television Fund.