On January, the 12th, 2010, the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The Caribbean’s largest city, with more than 3 millions inhabitants, was caught completely unprepared. With a strong growth due to massive rural flight in the 90’s and 2000’s, it had become an urban mess, counting more than 350 different shantytowns. This partly explains why the catastrophe was one of such a huge scale… and why rebuilding the city is a baffling problem. After the quake, more than 20 million cubic meters of rumble cluttered the streets, and most of the destroyed houses were not officially registered, making it difficult to assess the rebuilding work. But those logistical issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
In a capital city where everything, even the government centre, is to be rebuilt, where do you start? That’s the frightening problem the officials and NGOs had to face since January, the 13th, 2010, and that’s the question we wanted the public to think about.
To help readers understand the situation, we figured a “simple” long-form news report might not be sufficient. People often have false ideas about Haiti, they think they would do better if they were in charge of the rebuilding work. The truth is, they sometimes underestimate how complex and deeply stuck the situation really is. So we thought involving them in a fake but realistic rebuilding process could help.
Starting there, we invented situations were our readers are put in other people’s shoes: NGOs, the government, an investor… At the end of our piece’s first 5 chapters, they have to make choices that have immediate, short-term consequences. But that’s not it: the article’s last part, the sixth chapter, is a 100% fictional part, entirely built around the reader-made choices’ long term consequences. And more often than not, the reader/player learns that what might have sounded like a good idea at first turned to tragedy.
The result of this experiment is a part-real, part-fictional “Chose your own adventure” news report. The reportage is illustrated with photos and video footages, whereas the fictional parts are illustrated with drawings and put on a yellow background. Our bet is that the alliance of both provides the reader with a deep, involving understanding of Haiti’s rebuilding process. Whether or not we reached our goal is up for you to tell.