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Haiti's New Prime Minister Faces Challenges Brought On By Natural Disaster

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The earthquake which has devastated southwest Haiti came just weeks after another shock to the Caribbean nation, and that was the assassination of its president last month. The new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was already facing the challenge of establishing his government's legitimacy. Now he has to prove that the government can respond effectively to the quake. NPR's Jason Beaubien has been reporting from Haiti all week. He joins us now from the town of Coteaux. Jason, you're in a region hard hit by the quake.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah.

MARTINEZ: Let's start by asking just how the new prime minister has been responding to all this.

BEAUBIEN: You know, Prime Minister Henry definitely has stepped up, and he's playing the role of the head of state. If you remember, right after the assassination, the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, was saying that he was in charge even though he officially had been fired and was in the process of being replaced by Henry. And there was this period where it was really a mess. So right now, it is really good that that dispute has been resolved.

Ariel Henry is the prime minister. He's corralling the various government agencies to get moving. He - you know, he's demanding that the international aid groups coordinate their efforts through the Haitian government. He's getting out there in the field. He's talking to the injured who are waiting outside hospitals. Obviously, he's going to be judged later on how successful the government's response is - was to this crisis. But at least for now, when the country definitely needs a leader, Henry is doing that job. And it's really good that that leadership fight was resolved before this natural disaster hit.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, it's definitely going to be a test for him. What relief efforts have you been able to see?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it is still slow. Aid agencies also will tell you that it's not going nearly as fast as they'd like. You're not seeing much aid being distributed yet. Monday night, tens of thousands of Haitians were sleeping outside or they were crammed in with neighbors, you know, as this wicked storm pounded the area. Tropical storm force winds were ripping apart makeshift shelters that people had made. And certainly, you know, some real tarps, some plastic sheeting, would have been much better than what a lot of people had. But again, this quake, you know, it did only hit on Saturday. And access into the area, you know, has been complicated for these aid groups.

MARTINEZ: Four days, though, since the quake. That's a long time to be out in the rain and the sun. You were out last night talking to people. What are they saying about the relief effort?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, certainly there's a lot of frustration. People are telling us repeatedly that they haven't seen any government officials or aid groups coming around, even to find out what they need. Last night, we stopped by this house where 10 people were sleeping in these two small rooms.

KETTLY ROSIER: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: That's Kettly Rosier (ph). She was pointing out where each person fits on the concrete floor. You know, her house is still standing, but it's got cracks in the walls and in the floor, and she's terrified to go inside. And she'd like to get some help repairing her home - you know, some tarps maybe where she could set up a place to sleep out in her yard. Other people who are injured are still waiting for medical attention. Schools, churches - they need to be rebuilt. And, you know, with so many businesses damaged, the expectation is that there's going to be a need in the coming weeks for food aid just to, you know, help families survive who've lost their jobs.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Coteaux, Haiti. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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