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International Community Must ‘Fulfill Its Pledges’ To Haiti, Pres. Obama Says

President Barack Obama on Tuesday – a day ahead of the one-year Haiti earthquake anniversary – released a statement urging the “international community to ‘fulfill its pledges’ to aid ongoing earthquake recovery efforts,” The Hill’s “Blog Briefing Room” reports (Fabian, 1/11).

Obama “said Haitians must be in the lead as they fight back, and said a relief effort would take years, if not decades,” Agence France-Presse reports. “On this day when our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people, my message is the same as it was last year. Haiti can and must lead the way, with a strong vision for its future,” Obama said in the White House statement. Though the statement notes that many lives were saved after the earthquake and that some Haitians now have better access to health care and food, Obama also warns that serious problems remain. “Too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians progress has not come fast enough,” he said in the statement (1/11). Obama reiterated U.S. support for Haiti, The Hill’s “Blog Briefing Room” writes. He said, “And as they forge ahead with the hard work of rebuilding their proud country, the people of Haiti will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States” (1/11).

Meanwhile lawmakers on Capitol Hill “say they remain committed to helping the impoverished nation rebuild. But Haiti’s current political limbo has stalled congressional efforts to aid the country,” CQ Today reports, noting Haiti’s unresolved presidential election. “Until the country’s leadership vacuum is filled and the Haitian government becomes a reliable partner, aides to leading foreign policy voices in Congress say they are hesitant to advance new legislative efforts or back significant additional funding,” the publication writes.

U.S. funding for Haiti “is slated to drop off significantly for fiscal 2011,” and the new “Republican-led House is expected to push for cuts to the broader foreign aid budget,” CQ Today notes. The article highlights the sentiments of a “senior appropriations aide,”  who said effective spending, not additional funding is the biggest concern at this point. “[S]enior staffers said that the bureaucratic bottlenecks slowing the distribution of U.S. aid might be necessary to ensure that proper spending safeguards and a strategic vision for the money are in place.”

The article details how members of Congress have responded to the election in Haiti. The “upheaval is also stalling a decision on whether backers will reintroduce a bill to authorize more funding and create a strategy for a multi-year rebuilding effort in Haiti. Sens. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, have not decided whether to introduce a new version of the measure in this Congress, after the original stalled in the Senate last year,” CQ Today reports. The piece also looks at efforts to tighten aid oversight. “Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-Fla.], who made a one-day trip to Haiti on Tuesday, is considering introducing a bill similar to one she introduced last September. Among other things, that bill would have created a special inspector general post to monitor Haiti assistance” (Cadei, 1/11).

Haiti’s recovery will require strong leadership and accountability, Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday after she returned from a trip to Haiti, adding, “[l]eadership that is not there.” She “joined former President Bill Clinton and Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief of staff, on a daylong tour of reconstruction efforts and a Project Medishare hospital in Haiti’s capital,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports.  

“Ros-Lehtinen said future U.S. and international support for Haiti depends on concrete efforts to curb corruption and graft,” the news service writes (Kay, 1/11).

Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Clinton Mark One-Year Quake Anniversary

Also on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for the international community to “‘renew and redouble’ efforts to support Haiti,” IANS/Sify News reports. “The U.N. and international response was one of the largest of its kind ever mounted and continues to this day to help survivors of this tragedy,” said a statement from Ban’s spokesperson (1/12).

Former president Bill Clinton, the U.N. envoy to Haiti, expressed frustration Tuesday about the slow pace of rebuilding, but also said reconstruction efforts were picking up, the BBC reports. “No one is more frustrated than I am that we haven’t done more,” Clinton said in Port-au-Prince. “Even in the United States after Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992 we still had people in temporary housing a year after that,” he said.

“This [earthquake] took out a third of the capital area and wrecked a lot of the streets. … Yes it’s slow. Nobody is more impatient than I am but I think you will see the pace pick up,” Clinton said (1/11).

News Outlets Report On Aid, Reconstruction One Year After Earthquake Hit

“It took only a half-minute for the earthquake to shatter this island. A year later, the optimism that followed an international outpouring of sympathy, volunteers and money has given way to reality: The problems here are too great to solve in a year’s time,” according to an article reported by a journalist with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and published in USA Today.

“The United Nations, U.S. aid officials and Haiti’s government insist that progress is being made though it’s hard to see amid the widespread devastation. Still, that progress is piecemeal, a reflection of Haitian poverty and institutional weakness before the quake, the scale of devastation after, and the challenge of coordinating an international cast of actors carrying out their own rebuilding objectives, say aid experts,” according to the article. It reports on the rubble removal, noting that the U.S. has given about $100 million for rubble clearing and is responsible for more than half of what has been removed so far. The piece also reports on other needs that remain unmet in the tent camps (Wheeler, 1/12).  

“A million people still live in tents in the capital, Port au Prince, … Still, some neighborhoods are coming back to life,” PRI’s The World reports, highlighting a “fabrication yard run by Catholic Relief Services [CRS] where scores of workers are pounding nails, cutting plywood and loading trucks – creating the transitional shelters that bridge the gap between tents and permanent homes.”

The shelters, designed to last about three years, are made of plywood and have a door and a tin roof. “In many cases, they’re better than what people lived in before and they’re in all likelihood going to become somewhat permanent,” said Christian Oakes, the engineering and construction program manager for CRS. “It’s a huge step up from a tent, but it’s not ideal,” Oakes said. The piece includes accompanying audio and video (Sharp, 1/11).

A year after the earthquake hit, the U.N. “estimates it has only been able to remove five percent of the rubble … because as soon as workers haul away debris, people clean out their homes and fill the streets with more. Residents once resorted to taking picks and shovels to move the rubble themselves, but it’s a monumental task, and it’s come to a virtual standstill,” CBC News reports in an article looking at the slow pace of recovery in Haiti (1/11).

“Last January, hundreds of thousands of Haitians lost their lives and millions lost their homes in an earthquake that flattened much of the capital. A year later, Haitians appear to have lost something else: hope,” the Wall Street Journal reports, noting some of the major challenges Haiti’s recovery has faced. “If the past year has proved anything, economists say, it is that the kindness of strangers – either through aid from other governments or private charities – can’t on its own help Haiti create a brighter future. The only real hope, economists say, is taking steps to create jobs and build a stronger economy” (Arnesen, 1/12).

As the earthquake anniversary is marked on Wednesday, “hopes that a better nation could rise from the rubble have given way to a crushing sense of bitterness and despair,” Reuters reports.

“Reconstruction work has barely begun despite billions of dollars in pledged aid, profiteering by Haiti’s tiny and notoriously corrupt elite has reached epic proportions, and a national cholera epidemic has added to the misery of a country where the quake killed about 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless. Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, was in bad shape before the quake. But promises from the international community to ‘build Haiti back better’ now ring hollow to many of the country’s most vulnerable,” the news service writes. The article includes several Haitians’ comments about reconstruction (Gaestel/Brown, 1/12). 

The Quake’s Impact On Health, Cholera Update

In a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece, public health experts reflect on Haiti’s public health system since the earthquake, noting that there has been “encouraging progress,” CBC News reports. “The foundations of a functioning public health system are beginning to coalesce,” Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, and co-authors – Scott Dowell, director of the CDC’s division of global disease detection and emergency response, and Jordan Tappero, director of the CDC’s health systems reconstruction office – wrote in the piece. “Nevertheless, long-standing public health problems remain. Efforts to improve roads to reduce traffic injuries, provide lifesaving community and obstetrical services, and repair, upgrade, or build safe water and sanitation systems are just beginning to be scaled up,” they write.

The authors discuss the recent cholera outbreak and look at efforts to contain it. “The paper’s authors said the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population deserves credit for effectively using resources to address immediate challenges, but the cholera outbreak exposes how much more remains to be done,” the news service writes (1/11).

Meanwhile, the WHO on Tuesday said the cholera outbreak in Haiti has not yet peaked and has killed 3,651 people so far, AFP reports. “We think that the peak has not been reached,” said Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman. “The peak has not been reached because it would require the mortality rate to drop to less than one percent from 2.2 percent at the moment. That would take several weeks,” she said. “There will be certainly many more cases of cholera in Haiti, it’s certain. But what is sure is that fewer people will die,” Chaib added, noting that the mortality rate was down from nine percent late last year. A total of 171,304 have been infected with the disease, according to the news service (1/11).

“On top of its other problems Haiti is struggling, a year after the earthquake that left more than a million people homeless, to cope with a substantial rise in the birth rate,” BMJ News reports.

Last August, pregnancies in Port-au-Prince tripled compared with pre-earthquake levels and since November, many maternity facilities have been overwhelmed, according to the U.N. Population Fund. “It’s normal to get this kind of peak after a crisis,” said Igor Bosc, the fund’s spokesperson in Haiti. “And we would expect it to drop back to normal in a few months,” he added. In April, the fund plans to publish findings from a survey of 2,391 women between the ages of 15 and 49 who live in areas affected by the earthquake. “It found that 12% of these women were pregnant, whereas the normal rate before the earthquake was 4%. No figures are yet available on the current birth rate,” BMJ News writes. The article looks at how access to family planning could be affecting the birth rate spike (Arie, 1/12).

Media Outlets Report On Effects Of Escaped Prisoners, Mobile Phone Company Successes, Orphans

  • PBS’ FRONTLINE looks at how the escape of “4,500 of the country’s most violent criminals” after the earthquake has affected daily life in Haiti. “The escapees include many of the hard-core criminals, kidnappers and gang bosses who had reduced Haiti to anarchy before being subdued by an all-out military onslaught by the police and heavily armed U.N. peacekeepers from 2004-7. Now the gangsters are largely free to regain control of the slums and the tent cities where most Haitians live, using murder and rape to enforce their rule, as Haiti proves more vulnerable and less well policed than ever before,” according to a PBS piece introducing the film. “The head of the U.N. mission, Edmond Mulet, tells FRONTLINE that unless the gangsters are controlled and stopped, ‘all the efforts that the international community is doing on reconstruction, on rebuilding, on development … will be in vain.’ Other senior U.N. officials echo this analysis.” The full program is available online. Interview excerpts are also available, as is an interview with filmmaker Dan Reed (1/11).
  • “On the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated much of the country, journalists are issuing scathing assessments of government and international actors that failed to get the country back on its feet. … But no one complains about the phone companies. In fact, Digicel and Voila are widely hailed as the most competent actors amid the reconstruction’s larger disarray. … How have two cell-phone companies maintained such wild popularity, when the government, NGOs, and the international community are so reviled? Their interests are in building up a consumer base that has the cash in their pockets and infrastructure on their streets to use their services. And that means a more functional Haiti – especially if it comes with a shiny red Digicel label,” according to a piece in Foreign Policy magazine examining the success of the cell phone companies (Bracken, 1/11).
  • CNN examines the fate of some of Haiti’s children who became orphans after the earthquake. “[B]y now most of those children have moved into adoptive homes, as have hundreds of others around the country who arrived in similar airlifts. But many spent months in federal custody – some even experiencing their second winter detained in shelters in Pennsylvania and Florida, still waiting for their lives in America to truly begin,” CNN writes. A video accompanies the piece (Arce/O’Brien, 1/11).

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