Monday, October 18, 2010

Rubble begins to clear in Haiti

Finally some of the rubble that was left behind after the Haitian earthquake is beginning to be cleared away. The New York Times has a fascinating story about a couple of American businessmen who won the contracts from the government to work on the rubble. The contract winners say that the start of work was delayed by a lack of funding, and grand development plans that never came to be. Writer Deborah Sontag gives us the background on what delay.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the American military and several American contractors were busy clearing roads and setting up logistical support for the Haitian government and international groups. One of Mr. Perkins’s chief competitors — the DRC Group of Alabama — already had an office in Haiti and started right in with the grisly task of recovering bodies.

After that initial burst of activity, though, the cleanup slowed to a crawl. International officials blamed the Haitian government for failing to take charge and create a master plan for debris removal and resettlement. Haitian officials, however, maintain that international donors themselves were slow to make rubble a priority.

“What is happening now could have happened in March if there had not been a laxity on the part of the international community,” said one senior official in the planning ministry, who asked that he not be identified for what he called political reasons. “As you know, we ourselves don’t have the means.”

Chuck Prieur, senior vice president of DRC-Haiti, said that rubble removal was never “sexy” to donors. “Nobody wants to do cleanup,” he said. “Everybody likes to do shiny stuff you can put your name on.”

Major cleanup and rebuilding is not expected to happen until next year, frustrating contractors like Mr. Prieur, although his firm does have work, building shelters and a residential camp for the United Nations.

“I’m here, so I’d love to get going, and my American greed says I’d love to have everything given to me,” Mr. Prieur said. His company’s competitor, Mr. Perkins’s firm, got the first major cleanup contract because it had “the capacity,” Michel Content of the planning ministry said.

The government is paying $32.50 to $58 a cubic yard for debris removal. That is considerably more than the American government paid contractors after Hurricane Katrina.

But the work in Haiti, contractors say, is tougher: trucks can haul fewer loads a day because of bad roads; fuel costs are higher; buildings have to be demolished. On the other hand, labor costs are far lower. The Haitians Mr. Perkins has hired and trained — close to 100, he said — are getting $1,000 a month, a substantial wage in Haiti, though much less than the $450 to $500 a day he is paying American machine operators here.

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