January 13, 2011 2:14 am

Haiti PM urges more speed from donors

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Haiti’s prime minister has criticised international donors for slow progress in meeting pledges, as he defended his government’s efforts to rebuild the Caribbean nation a year after a devastating earthquake, which he said had cost $7.8bn.

Launching a report from the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is helping to co-ordinate reconstruction, Jean-Max Bellerive said: “While we need to move quicker, we can’t move quicker than the funds ... We are encouraging donors to do a lot better.”

Mr Bellerive said only one-fifth of the $5.6bn pledged by government donors last March for 2010-11 had so far been disbursed. This included only two-thirds of the $2bn specifically earmarked for spending during the past year.

He said most support so far had gone to education, infrastructure and transport, but that “if the government and the commission had direct access to funding” much more would have gone to housing, health and continued clearance of the rubble still visible throughout Port-au-Prince, the capital.

“We need to refocus funding for Haiti,” he said, responding to concerns that only a small fraction of 19m cubic metres of rubble had so far been removed, slowing rebuilding progress.

“We need to make rubble clearance more sexy, but donors prefer to fund a new hospital than to clean up rubble.”

His comments came as Haitians – including 800,000 still living in temporary camps – expressed frustration with slow progress. Thousands gathered at religious ceremonies around the capital to mourn the estimated 316,000 people killed in the quake.

A formal mass was held in front of Port-au-Prince’s roofless cathedral, which offered little protection from the hot morning sun apart from the scant shadows cast by its cracked towers.

Groups huddled on corners near the cathedral, their arms waving in the air as they whispered personal prayers.

“Thank you, Lord, that I am still alive,” muttered one woman. “Without you there is nothing I could do.”

Inside the cathedral’s walls, large blocks of concrete suspended by twisted iron bars swayed in the breeze and two giant bells lay askew on top of one tower, ready to fall.

Priests and dignitaries at Wednesday’s ceremony sat under a temporary canopy, after undertaking a short walk with security staff from large and sometimes bullet-holed jeeps.

Just beyond the fence behind them dozens of makeshift tents offered shelter to those still homeless.

Wiliane Noel, who has shared a tiny space with seven of her family over the past year, said: “We are trying to be patient but the conditions are not good.” Her neighbour, Oxygene Casner, said: “I feel great sadness today. It’s good to see people getting together but it’s really hot in these tents and sometimes thieves break in.”

The mood was often more uplifting than sombre, with evangelical groups singing and dancing and young people wearing brightly coloured T-shirts bearing slogans such as “We are still alive” and “This date will never fall off the calendar”.

In the main square in front of the ruined presidential palace, the statue of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the liberator of Haiti, is surrounded by dozens of scrappy shelters that now house hundreds of other homeless Haitians.

Aguilem Gay, who sleeps with his family in a tiny lean-to, sacrificed his modest income derived from selling sweets on Wednesday as a sign of respect.

He expressed little optimism ahead of run-off presidential elections that are due in the coming weeks and which are overshadowed by potential politically inspired violence.

“The government has done nothing for us, but it’s always been like that.”

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