Haiti's earthquake debris must move before rebuilding can begin

Now that the post-quake emergency has settled into dismal routine, the unresolved question of how to clear staggering amounts of debris has emerged as a major logistical obstacle to reconstruction, as experts begin to confront a task they say will be neither simple nor quick.

A massive demolition and rubble-removal program has not yet been designed, won't get started for at least several weeks, and will likely be a "years-long" endeavor, say experts helping develop a strategy for the Haitian government.

The need to start will only acquire more urgency with the approach of the rainy season at the end of March, which could lead to further building collapses and make the difficult job of rubble clearing even harder, the experts say.

But one month after the Jan. 12 earthquake, basic questions remain unsettled.

"This poses a major logistics challenge -- how to do it, when and where to begin, and how much would it cost, and how the project will be managed," said Tony Banbury, a senior United Nations official in Haiti who is helping draft a "rubble policy paper" for a meeting Friday involving U.N. and Haitian officials.

The U.N. and the Haitian government have launched a rudimentary rubble-removal program that employs Haitians in clearing roadways and some public sites, but the effort is limited by a shortage of heavy equipment. Working mainly with shovels and scoops, the crews are picking up debris virtually chunk by chunk, making piles in the street for pickup by government dump trucks.

But removing the millions of cubic feet of crushed brick, concrete, plaster and metal left by the quake will take an estimated one to two million dump-truck loads, according to preliminary estimates by U.N. engineers.

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