Five Years After Earthquake, Haiti's Recovery Remains Uneven
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Today in Haiti people filled churches and attended memorials for those who died in that country's massive earthquake five years ago. The official death toll according to the Haitian government stands at more than 316,000. More than a million and a half people were left homeless. Billions of dollars in aid has helped Haiti, but recovery has been uneven, at best. Now the country is struggling with a political crisis that's left the nation without a functioning parliament and the president ruling by decree. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Port-au-Prince.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the shadow of the ruins of Haiti's main cathedral, hundreds pack a small brick church, raise their hands above their heads, sway back and forth and sing hallelujah.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SINGING)
KAHN: We will never forget, the church sings in unison over and over. Mimot Jean (ph), a street vendor and her two kids head into the church. She says, we won't forget and we will honor those we lost that terrible day.
MIMOT JEAN: (Through interpreter) We don't think we are better than those who died. But those who survived, we are grateful to God, and we thank God for that.
KAHN: Maramuda Estad (ph) says the same. She came to church to remember her cousins, her uncle and countless friends who died in the quake.
MARAMUDA ESTAD: (Through interpreter) January 12, 2010 was very painful. This is one of the most painful days we ever have.
KAHN: Both women took the day off of work. Schools are closed, as are most businesses, and both say they will go straight home. They don't want to be out in the streets too long for fear of protests. Demonstrators clashed with police throughout the weekend, demanding the resignation of President Michel Martelly. Elections have long been postponed due to bickering between the president and opposition parties. As of today, most of the terms of the majority of Haiti's lawmakers expired, leaving Martelly ruling by decree.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD YELLING)
KAHN: At Haiti's rebuilt Parliament, the flag blows in the sea breeze at half-staff. Workers were told to report to duty today, but most stood outside arguing politics. Martelly announced he reached a deal with opposition lawmakers to call elections and extend the legislators' terms, but he faces a Catch-22. The parliament has to approve such a deal and it's unclear whether enough still have legal standing today to cast a vote. Opposition Senator Jean Baptiste Bien-Aime says regardless, he won't vote for it.
JEAN BAPTISTE BIEN-AIME: (Foreign language spoken).
KAHN: "I cannot support the corruption of Martelly. He is corrupt. The people want him to go," he says. Earlier in the day, President Martelly and his wife laid white flowers on the mass gravesite memorial where hundreds of thousands of Haitians were buried after the earthquake. Martelly said at this time, Haiti needs peace. The ongoing political turmoil is threatening to derail the recovery effort and undermine investor and donor confidence. Much has improved in Haiti in the past five years. The rubble has been removed. New roads, businesses, hotels and homes have been built. Crime and poverty are down and economic growth is up for four years in a row. But tens of thousands of people are still homeless. Food and gas prices are high. And poverty remains extreme.
Back in front of the shattered cathedral, Maramuda Estad, who sells used shoes on the street, says she is not interested in politics.
ESTAD: (Through interpreter) I haven't paid my rent yet. That's what I care about. And I don't know where I'm going to find the money to do that.
KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.