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Expectations High for Foreign Efforts in Haiti

  • Barry Newhouse

The new U.S. security agreement to help oversee Haiti's main transportation links is an attempt to clearly define the role of the 18,000 American forces arriving in the coming days. While U.S. troops are still primarily focused on evacuating the injured and securing key facilities, locals have higher expectations.

Just outside the security fence of Port au Prince's international airport, scores of Haitians watch the 24-hour parade of cargo planes and helicopters.

For many, all of the activity is somewhat of a mystery.

Blanc Marielle lost two children, her home and her job as a seamstress. She now sleeps outside with the rest of her family. She says she came to the airport because that's where the foreigners are and she hoped to get some help. She says she is still waiting to hear their plan.

As a crowd gathers to air their grievances to a foreign reporter, they say they don't understand why so many planes have landed at the airport but so little aid has reached them.

Many say the Haitian government is stealing it. Some say the foreigners need better advice for reaching affected people.

International aid operations have fanned out into much of the capital, and heavy equipment is now clearing debris downtown. But many people remain in need. Sampan Junior is a 22 year-old aspiring accountant who worked in a bakery until last week. He lost his mother and his father when their house collapsed. "I just want to work with the Americans so I can get some money so I can eat something," he said.

American soldiers' primary mission remains evacuating the wounded, but they are also patrolling streets and beginning to organize an employment program. On Saturday, soldiers set up a camp to register job seekers' skill sets. Despite almost no publicity, hundreds of people lined up.

Before the earthquake an estimated 70 percent of Haitians lived on two dollars or less per day. Now, with scores of businesses shut down and many more people out of work, some say the relief effort should soon turn to jobs for the unemployed.

Eddie Noulsent is a former government worker and current resident of a tent city in the middle class suburb of Delmas. Speaking on a barren hillside where scores of locals are camping near their shattered homes, he says getting people back to work should be a priority. "So many young people would like to work. They dont have a job. There is plenty of crime in Haiti when there is no work for us. What can you do? Sit down, play cards, play dominoes and do crime," he said.

The Haitian government has said it must first relocate and register the hundreds of thousands of people now living in temporary shelters before starting a massive jobs program aimed at rebuilding the country.

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