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Haiti quake clean-up project creates new jobs

By Nick Davies
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

Inhabitants in Port-au-Prince clear rubble off the streets
The task of clearing tonnes of debris off the streets has created new jobs

The green wheelbarrows are loaded with debris, some workers pulling away bits of rubble as others use shovels to scoop up their neighbourhood.

The air around Kafou Fey is thick with concrete dust, the workers wear face masks so as not to inhale the particles as they clear the street of chunks of building block and steel.

The quake three weeks ago took away so much - not only lives, homes and belongings but also the precious few jobs that existed as thousands of businesses were also destroyed.

I'm a professional but since there are no jobs I have to do this
Street worker, Port-au-Prince

But amid the rubble thousands of people are working here and in other parts of the city.

They are helping to clean up under a UN-paid project and, in doing so, supporting themselves and their families.

They're about to be given blue t-shirts with the Haitian flag on the back and the name of their community on the front - a way of encouraging solidarity among the workers who are not only clearing the area but sorting and recycling the debris.

Rediscovered dignity

"It's not what I normally do, I'm a professional but since there are no jobs I have to do this," one man told me.

There are already 31,000 people who have been employed to do this. They get paid less than $5 for a six-hour shift - that's more than the minimum wage and to spread the work around people can only do a couple of weeks.

Market in Port-au-Prince
Street markets reopening were the first signs of life returning to normal

Immediately after the earthquake, everyone was in despair. Now, hope is starting to return, life is beginning to return, and people are finding their dignity again.

But there are many more people who need help, says Dukans Exsantus - a community leader who helped to arrange jobs.

Getting paid employment was always hard here with 80% of people living below the poverty line before the quake.

One of the first signs of life getting back to normal, if you can say this after the tremors, was people selling in the bustling small markets dotted nearly everywhere.

Along the pavement and spilling onto the street, people are selling fruit and vegetables - huge bowls of peppers and plantain next to cut sugar cane, yams and okra.

Men, women and often children, shout the name of their wares to get a customer's attention.

However the future of the already weak economy is now under threat as delays caused by the disaster mean international firms are pulling out of contracts, unsure if their orders will be filled.

The clothing industry accounts for two-thirds of Haiti's exports.

Back to work

While the port is damaged and much of its work focused on getting aid in, and road routes via the Dominican Republic are clogged, sending goods out of the country clearly may not be a priority - but without it many firms here won't be able to keep going.

"It's good that they're sending food and water and everything else but we need to get back our orders, that's what we need now, " says Herve Dersere, import and export manager for one factory that sells to US department stores.

The way I see the country, I don't know how the economy can be rebuilt
Myriam Josef, factory worker

"All our workers are here, they're back to work and we're ready to increase our productivity like before but as you can see we're not sure if we can survive over the next few coming months."

As we talk, there are hundreds of men and women walking away from the Sonapi - a large industrial estate that was pretty much unaffected by the quake although its workers weren't. They lost colleagues, friends and family.

Future without aid

The owners aren't sure if people who haven't returned are alive or dead because so many people have left the city as well.

There are long lines as people wait for work to fill their place. The money is needed even more than before as today was the first payday since 12 January.

"The way I see the country, I don't know how the economy [can] be rebuilt, I really don't know, you can never say never, only God knows," said factory worker Myriam Josef.

Despite the huge loss of life here, many Haitians see hope in a chance to rebuild their country, to make it better than it was. But they also want a future without being dependent on aid - something that won't be possible if they can't get the work.



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