Almost two years after earthquake, Haiti shows signs of progress – UN official

29 November 2011

Almost two years after the devastating earthquake that killed over 200,000 people, Haiti is showing remarkable signs of progress, a United Nations official said today, stressing that reconstruction efforts need to be put into context to assess their effectiveness.

Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti told reporters in New York that there have been significant advances on education, health, job creation, and infrastructure, among other sectors, through effective reconstruction projects.

Mr. Fisher emphasized that to be able to provide an integral picture of the situation in Haiti, pre-earthquake conditions need to be considered.

Before the earthquake, Haiti was already the poorest country in the Southern Hemisphere, Mr. Fisher said.

“Three quarters of the population earned and still earn less than two dollars a day, 70 per cent did not have stable jobs, more than half of children did not go to school, and the great majority – about 70 to 80 per cent – had no access to electricity, and only five per cent of roads were in decent conditions.

“The earthquake highlighted decades of chronic political instability, lack of basic social services and economic opportunities that left so many Haitians in deep poverty and chronic vulnerability,” Mr. Fisher added, stressing it was against this backdrop that the international community and the Government responded.

However, Mr. Fisher said that large-scale recovery projects that were already starting to have a visible impact in the country.

“In July 2010, 1.5 million Haitians were sheltered in camps receiving clean water, food, medical care and access to latrines. Today, 500,000 people are still in those camps. While this is still a significant number, it represents a two-thirds reduction in just over a year,” he said.

Mr. Fisher stressed that even as things improve, aid is still needed to continue the work carried out so far. “Even as housing and resettlement programmes accelerate, thousands of people still have basic social needs at a time when humanitarian funding is decreasing and too many partners are closing essential operations.”

Regarding the cholera epidemic last year, Mr. Fisher said that a national response system and an alert system are now in place, and that fatality rates have dropped to just over one per cent.

He also addressed criticism of aid distribution as being too slow by pointing out that 88 per cent out of the $4.6 billion in aid pledged by countries last year, have already been dispersed or committed to specific programmes for transport, debris removal, education, job creation, water and sanitation, public administration, health, housing, energy, among other areas.

Mr. Fisher underscored that there is still much to be done on all fronts in the country, but urged countries to see the bigger picture, and keep supporting Haiti in the long-term.

Progress should be put into context, he said. As an example he said Haiti has managed to get rid of almost 50 per cent of debris, equivalent to five million cubic metres. In contrast, it took five and a half years to remove 1.3 million cubic metres in Aceh after it was hit by a tsunami in 2006.

“The suggestion that no progress has been achieved is to paint a false picture,” Mr. Fisher said, adding that continued support will make it possible for the country to achieve further advances.


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