I am writing this blog post primarily in response to an email from a reader of New Internationalist where the post was published. I am not sure why the writer chose to respond by email rather than leave a comment but I am choosing to respond as a blog post.
My knowledge of the politics around the rebuilding of New Orleans is limited to what I have read online so I’m unable to respond in any detail but I do agree that rebuilding after such devastation takes time. But in addition to how long, we need to ask who will benefit from the rebuilding and what standards will be met. With regards to Haiti, first we have to be clear on what we mean by progress which also relates to the question of who benefits. If this is some superficial but much needed improvements to infrastructure such as a few roads here and there and yes some new homes, rebuilding of schools and private residences, and as you say, removal of rubble. And of course new factories have been opened by foreign businesses which operate tax free and benefit from really low waged labour. And lets not forget Haiti’s 6 new post earthquake millionaires, plus the hundreds of foreign and Haitian consultants whose pockets have been left bulging as a result of the disaster. So yes for a few people Haiti’s has progressed!
One of the worst myths floating in western media is the one that of the 2 million people displaced there are now only 250,000 left in camps. On the contrary, people were given various amounts of money $400/$500 to move from camps – where does the writer imagine these people went with a paltry $500 and no job, a hardly sustainable programme? Many moved to other camps in the city and on the outskirts where huge informal settlements have sprung up with no water – in short the same conditions as in the camps; many moved to already overcrowded poor neighbourhoods like Carrefour and Jalouzi either with family or in makeshift housing; some moved to the countryside; some were rehoused in temporary plywood houses; and some were rehoused. The figure we should be searching for, is of the 1.75 million now supposedly out of the camps, how many of these have been rehoused in decent housing and lets not forget that for those who remain in camps the situation is worsening every day.
I know of two post quake housing builds that have been abandoned due to ‘lack of funds’. In one case, a faith based project, the housing is of such a low standard and bears no relationship to the amount of money available to the church. In the second project, the organizers have abandoned building homes and are now involved with a private run factory producing products for the really rich such as the owners of the many Porsche jeeps and Hummers I see on the streets of PAP. However all is not lost as we are told they have created jobs for Haitians. I’m still trying to find out the daily rate.
To return to the road building projects for example in Port-au-Prince. These have been accompanied by the forced removal of street traders most of whom are women and many of whom lost all their goods as they are swept off the streets by the police. Only yesterday morning there was another panic on the streets of Route Frere as women carrying their vegetables in bundles ran up and down the streets running away from the police. Note these women are the poorest of the poor, often selling a couple of dozen oranges or bunches of onions and probably not even making 100 gdes profit for the day. Yet there is no other way for them to earn a living pushing them to make desperate choices in how they live. So now, for some progress has been made as the streets are clear of vendors but for others this thing called progress has become an enemy of the people! For more on ‘progress’ please see my report on Cholera and Healthcare in Haiti to be published this week.
Yes, the process is slow and maybe not acceptable but there is progress. After the earthquake there were 2 million displaced people in tents and now there is 250 thousand. The estimates said that it was going to take 1,000 trucks, 1,000 days to remove the rubble, and the rubble is gone.
Please note that New Orleans is still re-building 7 years after Katrina. I’m not condoning the situation in Haiti or in New Orleans, I’m just stating a fact. It takes a community some time to shake itself out of the shock of a catastrophe. Then the process of rebuilding can begin but before you lift a hammer, you need to look at what was not working so you don’t make the same mistakes. That requires a study. Then the community should be consulted because you don’t want to build homes that nobody wants to live in.
My favorite quote from Haiti Redux is “The earthquake didn’t cause a disaster it revealed one.”
My film will be showing in NYC on March 13th and in PaP on March 19th and I hope you have the chance to see it.