Monday, April 12, 2010

Haiti President René Préval Defends Gov't Response to Quake

By EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ/ The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Standing at the wrecked national palace, President Rene Preval on Monday rejected criticism of his government over legions of his people still being without shelter three months after Haiti's earthquake.

Preval compared Haiti to China, Italy and other countries that struggled to recover from quakes that were less all-encompassing than the one that struck Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area Jan. 12.

"This was one of the biggest disasters," he told reporters at the palace, whose white early 20th century domes tumbled in the disaster and became an international symbol of the extent of the damage to Haiti's infrastructure and institutions.

Workers began using bulldozers to clear the rubble of the palace Friday - a small part of a long, expensive reconstruction effort. The government and its international partners have also begun moving people out of sprawling temporary camps as rains begin to pelt Haiti ahead of the official start of the rainy season next month.

So far, there has been no significant outbreak of disease, vaccination programs have reached more than 100,000 children and the international aid effort has provided clean drinking water to more than a million people affected by the quake, according to a report released Monday by UNICEF.

But the situation remains dire, with more than 500,000 people made homeless by the earthquake and many more struggling for survival.

Gerald Ermilus, a 23-year-old father of two, receives $6 a day through a United Nations work program, but he said he needs another job because it's not enough to support his family.

"Since they give me money, they don't give food to my family," Ermilus said as he hauled rice sacks destined for the hard-hit Carrefour area.

A survey released Monday by the Oxfam aid group identified growing concerns among Haitians about a lack of leadership from state authorities. Only 7 percent of the Haitians polled said the government alone should lead the reconstruction process.

Preval said the survey was unfair because few countries in the world could have responded to such a tragedy on their own. He insisted the reconstruction effort would be a joint effort involving Haitians living overseas, foreign governments and billions of dollars in aid pledges.

"The Haitian government did not have the capacity to respond to the crisis with boatloads and planeloads of food like the international community," he said.

The biggest priority for many Haitians is finding a way to make a living and leave the stick-and-tarp shantytowns around the capital. In the Oxfam survey, 28 percent of the 1,793 people polled said job creation should be the top priority of the reconstruction effort. Haitians said the next biggest priorities were building new schools and homes.

For now, Preval said the government's priority is to move the homeless to adequate shelter.

The Haitian government and the U.N. are encouraging people to move back to their old neighborhoods when possible and have certified thousands of homes as safe to occupy. Only about 20,000 people without other options are to be moved to temporary relocation camps, including one that began receiving people over the weekend.

About 9,000 people need to be relocated immediately because they live in areas with a high flooding risk, according to the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Across Port-au-Prince, workers are taking down damaged structures to make room for new buildings, filling the city with the growl of heavy machinery.

The leader of the World Food Program in Haiti, Christian Labon, said the activity is a remarkable contrast to the period immediately following the quake. His agency has returned to distributing food to targeted areas of need, rather than trying to feed almost 2 million people daily as in the days just after the disaster.

"People are back to work, they are trying to do something by themselves, but they still need support," he said.

Source: WashingtonPost

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