Rebuilding Haiti

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Haiti's infrastructure for things like clean water and sewage disposal was primitive before last week's earthquake. Now, out of tragedy arises the opportunity to rebuild it up to modern standards. But will the country be able to take advantage of the opportunity? Marina Giovannelli has our story

MARCO WERMAN: Along with housing hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain in dire need of clean water and sanitation. But amid the crisis it's easy to forget that huge numbers of Haitians didn't have these things to begin with. One of the ironies of the current disruption is that the earthquake presents an opportunity to rebuild Haiti's infrastructure from scratch and finally get it right. The World's Marina Giovannelli has our report.

MARINA GIOVANNELLI: We've heard often in the last week that before the earthquake Haiti was already the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. But it's only in some of the details behind that figure that you start to get an idea of what life was really like before it got even worse. Consider this: roughly half of Haiti's eight million people didn't have access to safe drinking water. And 90 percent of its children suffered from water-born illnesses. As so much else in Haiti it's safe to say that few want the country's post quake future to look like it's past.

MIKE DELANY: I don't think anybody wants to rebuild what was actually there.

MARINA: Mike Delany is director of humanitarian response for Oxfam America. Delany says that before the quake most Haitians had no running water at all.

MIKE: The water trucks would be coming in and for the poor they wouldn't be even filling up barrels, they would be filling up these, you know five gallon buckets.

MARINA: Delany says a few well off Haitians may have been able to lay pipes to bring water into their homes. But it's likely that even this limited infrastructure was severely damaged by the quake, if not destroyed. For sewage meanwhile there was basically nothing. Most people had only outhouses behind their homes and Delany says some didn't even have that.

MIKE: Some didn't even have latrines and used plastic bags. And you know tossed those into valleys and garbage pits and that kind of thing.

MARINA: Together the lack of water and sewage infrastructure contributed to a public health nightmare. The reality of Haiti before the quake has left even government officials hoping that something better will emerge out of the catastrophe. Raymond Joseph is the Haitian ambassador to the United States.

RAYMOND JOSEPH: This is an opportunity and that's the silver lining I see.

MARINA: Many aid workers agree that as terrible as it has been, the disaster is a chance to start over in Haiti.

RICH THORSTEN: This may well represent a very good opportunity expand service to people at affordable prices.

MARINA: Rich Thorsten is Director of International Programs for Water.org. He was in Port au Prince a week before the quake looking at water distribution systems. Thorsten envisions a modern system for Port au Prince, but he says such a system won't be cheap.

RICH: It will take a significant investment in the millions if not billions of dollars to serve a capital city of over two million people.

MARINA: That money likely would have to come from outside of Haiti, and there is no guarantee of course that it will happen. But activists point to a similar disaster not long ago as an example of what's possible. Mike Delany of Oxfam says that parts of the Indonesian province of Ache have made remarkable progress in the five years since it was pummeled by a Tsunami.

MIKE: Many of those communities ended up with new homes and water actually going into their homes for the first time.

MARINA: Delany says the progress in Ache was the result of collaboration between local and foreign governments, the United Nations and private aid groups. But he says that only worked because local people had a say in key decisions. Of course Haiti is not Ache and Haiti faces it's own challenges. But Delany says if done right, the attention suddenly focused on Haiti could help make the disaster a turning point in its unhappy history.

MIKE: We've said it countless times this week you know Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Well, you know maybe it won't be in a couple years.

MARINA: For The World, I'm Marina Giovannelli.