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News Outlets Examine Electricity, Customs Hurdles For Foreign Aid, Potential Malaria Increase In Haiti

Since a major earthquake hit Haiti last month, “power has returned to nearly half” of the neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince, but the rebuilding of the country’s power system “is starting almost from scratch,” the Associated Press/New York Times writes in an article examining the prospects for Haiti’s electric utility.

“Even before the Jan. 12 quake, electrical service in Haiti meant an average of 10 hours of power a day delivered by a rickety grid to just a quarter of the population – not even half of them paying customers. If Haiti now hopes to shake off its status as the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, experts say, it will need to build a power system far better than the highly subsidized, cash-hemorrhaging utility it had before the disaster,” the news service writes.

According to Serge Raphael, the director-general of the state-owned Electricite d’Haiti, the country needs $40 million immediately to get its grid working like it was before the earthquake and pay the company’s 2,500 employees. Ernest Paultre, USAID’s chief engineer for Haiti, said, “This is one of the most pressing problems that Haiti is facing.”

According to the AP/New York Times, “Rebuilding Haiti’s power grid and expanding its generation capacity are among priorities – along with roads, water and sanitation – for an international donors conference set for late March at U.N. headquarters in New York. Until then, without additional emergency funds, little can be done to further restore service on a hobbled distribution network. Power poles and cables still lie snapped on streets all over town” (2/24).

CNN, reporting from Haiti, writes about obstacles aid organizations are facing with getting supplies out of customs. “Relief supplies had been flowing freely from the airport since the earthquake. Rescue workers had been able to avoid customs delays and taxes imposed on foreign imports. But when we arrived at the airport, the whole system had been upended,” according to CNN. “Customs would not budge. They showed us an order from the Ministry of Economy and Finance outlining a new procedure for getting supplies into the country. Organizations now have to sign over the goods to the Haitian Department of Civil Protection which will review their request to get a tax exemption before releasing the goods. We called the ministry and they told us the government is trying to prevent businesses from getting goods in tax free under the guise of being relief organizations. They are after crooks and people sneaking in contraband” (O’Brien/Arce, 2/25).

Meanwhile, a Reuters video reports on doctors’ observations that the number of malaria cases in Haiti is increasing. There are fears of a significant malaria outbreak, according to the video (2/25).

Wall Street Journal Examines U.S. Center’s Role In Monitoring Seismic Activity, Aid Response After Quakes

In related news, the Wall Street Journal examines how the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) monitors earthquakes worldwide and plays a role in aid delivery and relief after a significant quake.

“Some 1,000 seismic stations around the world relay earthquake signals in real time to NEIC. The Colorado center accurately locates about 14,000 quakes each year, of which about 25 cause significant damage, injuries or fatalities. Minutes after it picks up data on a significant quake, the center’s automated system draws up a ‘shake map.’ This estimates the number of people and specific areas exposed to the most severe effects. The NEIC places this data on its Web site, and relays it to federal and state agencies, scientific groups, private citizens and media. Data on overseas temblors are sent to U.S. embassies and the United Nations,” the newspaper reports.

The article also looks at the role the NEIC played in monitoring seismic activity in Haiti. “The PAGER alert helped guide the response in Haiti by the U.S. Agency for International Development, one of the agencies that funds the system” (Naik, 2/24).

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