‘Trying to survive’: Scrap metal recycling brings cash in Haiti post-earthquake

By Laura Gottesdiener

LES CAYES, Haiti (Reuters) – After a devastating earthquake leveled tens of thousands of homes in Haiti, some residents have started to pick up the pieces, collecting scrap metal from the rubble to resell and make ends meet.

Djedson Hypolite deftly coiled severed electrical wires at a collapsed home in the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes on Monday afternoon, as he scanned the debris for more metal.

The 13-year-old boy and his brother Dawenson, 9, have been extracting and reselling wires and cables found in the wreckage since the quake struck on Aug. 14, killing over 2,000 people across Haiti.

“We are fatherless and our home collapsed, so we’re just trying to survive somehow,” said Hypolite, explaining the two brothers earned about $5 a day collecting the electrical wires.

The earthquake occurred just over a month after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, deepening the political turmoil in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, where violent gangs run rampant, hunger is on the rise and healthcare services were already buckling under COVID-19.

Though official efforts to clear the rubble have been slow in hard-hit cities and towns across Haiti’s southern peninsula, scrap metal collectors and recycling enterprises are busier than ever, providing much-needed cash for hundreds of residents, and extra hands for clearing debris.

All across the city, residents carried the scrap metal to collection sites on motorbikes, pickup trucks, or balanced on top of their heads. Those who could shoulder the weight hauled aluminum sheeting, which netted 25 Haitian gourdes (25 cents) per kilo, or iron rods, which went for 10 gourdes at a recycling collection site in downtown Les Cayes.

Holmes Germain, the owner of a downtown recycling enterprise, said the amount of iron and aluminum he was receiving had doubled or tripled since the quake.

Trucks flowed in and out of his scrap yard, taking the loads of twisted iron, warped aluminum sheeting, tangled wires and the occasional battery to the capital city, Port-au-Prince. From there, he said, it was recycled for domestic use, or packed onto shipping containers and exported.

Germain sees his business as both an economic opportunity and a public service at this time of crisis.

“If we don’t buy the iron they will throw it away or just leave it lying there, so this is our way of trying to clean up downtown,” he said.

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Les Cayes, Haiti; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Karishma Singh)