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Anger in Haiti Grows as U.N. Rates Earthquake Response as Good

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By Joseph Guyler Delva, NNPA Haiti Correspondent –

PORT-AU-PRINCE (NNPA) – U.N. officials in Haiti are saying that the response given by the international community to the devastating earthquake disaster was good. But six months after the earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people, survivors in makeshift tent cities continue to express growing discontent with aid relief efforts.

“I have four children and over the past two days I have not been able to cook anything to feed the children,” said 40-year-old mother Medgine Morancy, holding her 4-year-old boy outside her plastic tent in an overcrowded camp in downtown Port-au-Prince.

“We rely only on some neighbors who sometimes share some food with us,” Morancy said. “All we’ve been receiving is water, but we can’t live only with water … We’re dying of hunger”.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator and U.N. Secretary-General’s deputy special representative in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said U.N. agencies and other humanitarian actors did a good job with the limited means available in the aftermath of what he said was the worst natural disaster ever in an urban area in the world.

“I am not saying more could not have been done, but I think the response provided so far, six months after the disaster, was good compared to previous disasters in other parts of the world,” Fisher stated. The Haitian government said up to 300,000 people died in the January 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake that sent more than 1 million people leaving in makeshift camps in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and in other affected areas.

U.N. officials said more progress has been made in Haiti over the six-month period than in the hardest hit Indonesian province of Aceh, following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“Six months after the tsunami in Aceh 700 temporary shelters were built. However in Haiti we have more than 3,700,” Fisher said. “In Aceh 14,000 people got temporary jobs through high labor intensity programs, while we have more than 200,000 working here,” he stated.

Fisher also mentioned the case of Kobe, in Japan, that was devastated in 1995 by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed 6,400 people and left 300,000 people homeless. He said after 5 years of recovery, it’s only this year Kobe is getting back to the situation it was before the disaster.

“And all that occurred in an industrialized country with advanced social and economic infrastructures,” explained Fisher, showing how difficult it has been for the poorest country in the western hemisphere to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.

U.N. officials said 1.5 million people have already received temporary shelters, 4.3 million have received food assistance and 1.2 million receive potable drinking water everyday.

According to the U.N., 11,000 toilets have been set up, 600,000 children vaccinated, 250,000 m3 of rubble have been removed, 1,700 school tents have been distributed and 80 percent of affected schools have resumed classes while 560,000 school children have received a hot meal.

Despite all these figures, many homeless survivors, like Morancy, have expressed growing frustration with the lack of access to some of the most basic living conditions.

Others complain about the unbearable heat generated by the plastic tents exposed to a burning sun in wide open areas, mostly without any vegetation to provide shade. Survivors also expressed concern about the current rainy and hurricane seasons that could cause another disaster if appropriate precautionary measures are not taken immediately.

“Here, it’s like hell. When it rains we are flooded, when it is sunny, the heat is killing us,” said Jonas Meridien, living in a camp near the national road #1.

U.N. officials said that 170,000 homes affected by the quake have so far been assessed. And about 30 percent of them are habitable while 40 percent that are seriously damaged can be repaired.

On top of the 3,700 houses already built, the U.N. announced the construction of 12,000 more as part of a plan to build 125,000 homes by the end of August 2011. The Red Cross separately plans to build 30,000 and has already started construction for the first 300 transitional houses near Cite Soleil slum in the capital.

The U.N. and the Haitian government have come under intense criticism from opposition parties and other sectors that blame them for lack of actions and absence of leadership in the recovery and reconstruction efforts.

But the U.N. and the Haitian government have rejected criticism that suggests that they have not been doing much to try to assist the affected population.

“Some critics would say we did not do anything, you can see it is not true,” said Fisher acknowledging that there is a lot more remaining to be done.

U.N. and Haitian officials have complained that international donors have not actually contributed funds pledged during the March 31 conference in New York.

The U.N. has recently appealed for $1.4 billion for this year.

The international donor community pledged $5.3 billion over the next two years as part of $9.9 billion aid package to help rebuild the country over the next several years. But officials say only about 10 percent of pledged funds have been disbursed and continues to trickle in slowly.

Explains Fisher, “We have received promises [of] $900 million, of which $530 [million] have been received.”

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