Haiti earthquake diary: Rebuilding a sense of community

Patrick Delatour - a long-time friend and Haiti's minister of tourism - is now head of earthquake damage assessment. Haitians will survive this, he says, but will their sense of community?

By , Correspondent

SUNDAY, JAN. 17
Patrick Delatour, husband of my dear friend and old landlord Nancy Policard, is Haiti's Minister of Tourism - has been for about seven years, I think. Now, he's coordinating the assessment of the earthquake damage.

The Delatour brothers are well known and well connected.

Patrick's deceased brother, Leslie, was head of the National Bank and former finance minister. Leslie’s widow, Elisabeth, just married Haitian President René Préval.
Lionel is involved in US- Haitian relations, a big player in the civil service arena. Mario is a documentary journalist.

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The matriarch and patriarch of the Delatour family died when the earthquake brought down their family home. For obvious reasons, Patrick can’t take much time to grieve.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen him. His eyes show fatigue. He’s got a light laugh for such a heavyset guy, and his face looks younger when he smiles. But there isn’t much to smile about when he talks about the current situation.

Before we start on the more serious questions, I ask about his kids – he’s a grandfather now. I show him a picture of Kadja, my son. He puts his hands on his hips and stares, shaking his head. Kadja’s 18 now. Patrick first met Kadja when he was just a year old.

Patrick says Port-au-Prince was built for 250,000 people and now has nearly three million. A city of architecture without architects, engineering without engineers, planned but without city planners. And now, “not one government building is still intact. Customs building down, tax building with all the historic memory down, all the hospital services are destroyed,” he says. He may be exaggerating, but not by much.

The government is working out of the former police headquarters down by the airport. It took a while for them to figure out where to go – like everyone else they were handicapped by the loss of their homes, family members, vehicles, communication.

If the international media, with all its resources, had trouble mobilizing, it's no surprise that it was hard for the government to regroup. The prime minister was traveling by motorcycle the first few days and President Préval was touring on foot. Now everyone – parliamentarians and ministers alike - are all in one small building, trying to coordinate the government’s next steps.

I am pleased to hear Patrick say that an effective strategy to rebuild may come from decentralizing. I’d been thinking about that since I saw the ruins. Maybe some of the resources that come into the capital could go to the countryside. That way, people who have left or are leaving Port-au-Prince to be with family will have a reason to stay. That way, they won’t tax the limited resources of their families.

Patrick is not worried about people’s individual survival: Haitians have proved for over 200 years that they can survive. What has to happen now is to strengthen the community concept.

For Haiti to effectively rebuild, it’s got to be the survival of the entire community, rich and poor alike, he says, except he expresses it in terms that are probably not appropriate for a family-oriented news outlet.

--- For all stories, blogs, and updates on Haiti after the earthquake, go to The Monitor's Haiti page.

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