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Obama Administration Marks 6-Month Haitian Earthquake Anniversary

Marking the six month anniversary of Haiti’s major earthquake, President Barack Obama thanked Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez on Monday for his country’s help, Agence France-Presse reports. “One of the first messages I wanted to deliver was our appreciation for the role the Dominican Republic played in helping the international community respond to the crisis in Haiti after the devastating earthquake,” Obama said. “The Dominican Republic’s role, President Fernandez’s role in particular, was extraordinarily important. It saved lives, it continues, as we look at how we can reconstruct and can rebuild” (7/12).

Obama noted the international community’s efforts to save lives following the earthquake and said rebuilding efforts must continue, the Associated Press reports, adding: “Obama didn’t respond to a question about the speed of relief efforts six months later. … The administration’s coordinated message on Monday was that Haiti is a high priority. ‘Six months later, our resolve to stand with the people of Haiti for the long term remains undiminished,’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a written statement. ‘We are committed to helping them realize the Haitian vision for a better nation.'” Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff, told reporters that shelter continues to be an urgent need for homeless earthquake survivors (7/12).

“We have gotten past the immediate crisis … we are in that challenging space between transitioning from the immediate crisis to the long term. That is always challenging in these types of circumstances,” Mills said during a State Department briefing, Inter Press Service writes. Mills said efforts are focusing on getting the homeless into transitional dwellings “where they can exist comfortably for three to five years before moving into long-term housing” (Berger, 7/12).

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah also drew attention to the need for shelter, according to Politico. Shah said it is essential to provide basic housing “to protect and support a population that is very vulnerable.” Politico writes: “Shah, who visited the devastated country on Friday, said that the next best step is to improve damaged houses that are still standing rather than rebuilding altogether. He said that spending a thousand dollars to rebuild two or three damaged shelters would be more cost-effective than building new homes from the ground up.” He also said that USAID would continue to work in Haiti for the foreseeable future. “We’re going to be there for the long haul,” he said (Cheney, 7/12).

The Anniversary On The Ground

In Port-Au-Prince on Monday, “international supporters joined Haitian President Rene Preval and other leaders in a poignant remembrance ceremony,” AFP reports. “We are going to continue to help the people in the camps, but today we want to officially launch the reconstruction phase,” said Preval (Renois, 7/12). The Miami Herald quotes Preval on the need for debris removal: “It will not be easy and it requires a lot of resources. Before we reconstruct, we must clean up,” he said (Charles/Clark/Daniel, 7/13).

According to the AP, Preval “defended the response to the quake. He said in two speeches during the ceremony that hard-to-see successes — like the avoidance of massive disease outbreaks and violence — obviates the perception that not enough has been done.”

Bill Clinton, U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said he will focus on getting donors to follow through on pledges. “To those who say we have not done enough, I think all of us who are working in this area agree this is a harder job (than the tsunami),” Clinton said. “Viewed comparatively I think the Haitian government and the people who are working here have done well in the last six months” (Katz, 7/13).

Nigel Fisher, the deputy U.N. special representative for the stabilization mission in Haiti, highlighted the challenges that remain on the ground and noted some progress, CNN writes. “Fisher said that despite a lack of communication, destroyed roads and lack of transportation and railway systems, food was delivered relatively quickly to displaced Haitians. The response from the international community, Fisher said, was ‘quite significant.'” CNN adds that, six months in, “1.6 million remain in overcrowded displacement camps, and Fisher does not anticipate the number in camps to reduce soon. According to the United Nations, 1,300 camping sites and 11,000 latrines have been built, and thousands of kilos of food and humanitarian resources have been delivered to those in need” (Lebedev/Elliott, 7/13).

Relief, Aid And Reconstruction

NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed Haitian businessman Pierre Brisson about the struggles associated with earthquake recovery: “We have had 200 years of trying to survive, to fight to survive. And to me, thats what keeps the Haitians going. We have always struggled. Thats perhaps is good that we had that history, otherwise I dont know what we would have done. But in spite of all our misery we are still standing” (Norris, 7/12).

“Partly as a result of criticism of the slow pace of recovery efforts, drinking water may be now more accessible to many of Haiti’s poorest than it was before the earthquake that left 1.5 million people homeless,” TIME reports in a story documenting aid efforts to expand access to drinking water since the quake. “Prior to the quake, about half of Haiti’s urban population had access to tap water, according to a 2006 demographic and health survey conducted by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Since the quake, community kiosks selling water have been replaced by water trucks and boreholes where children fill buckets to the brim and carry them, carefully balanced on their heads, back to their tents” (Desvarieux, 7/12). 

The public radio program The World reports on how a “lack of cleared, usable land” is hampering relief efforts (Bracken, 7/12). “Even though the outpouring of aid has helped relief efforts, some critics say progress is too slow,” the Christian Science Monitor writes in a story looking at some of the major aid achievements and challenges (Parti, 7/12).

In a separate story, the Miami Herald looks at life for Haiti’s homeless earthquake survivors. “Six months later, the dispossessed remain, in transition to nowhere, with nowhere to go. With a million or so (no one really knows) still occupying what had been the city’s open spaces, a return to normalcy has become unimaginable,” the newspaper writes, including details about several of Haiti’s tent cities, including “Champs de Mars, a once-compelling 42-acre network of parks and plazas with shaded lawns” (Grimm, 7/13).

Meanwhile, “Partners In Health, the Boston-based global health initiative that has been the face of health care in Haiti after the devastating earthquake six months ago, is building a new teaching hospital there,” the Boston Globe reports. “The 320-bed, seven-building hospital will rise in Mirebalais in the rural Central Plateau, a 45-minute drive from the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the hard-hit capital. It will become a national referral center when it opens at the end of next year, seeing as many patients as are seen at the other 12 clinics in Haiti where Partners in Health currently works” (Cooney, 7/13).

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