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Clinton attacks slow Haiti quake progress

by Staff Writers
Santo Domingo (AFP) Dec 15, 2010
Former US president Bill Clinton criticized the slow pace of reconstruction in quake-hit Haiti and pressed Haitian officials to agree to his plans to speed things up.

Co-chairing the fourth meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) on Tuesday, Clinton repeatedly pushed the board's Haitian majority to make up its mind on key issues before the next gathering.

The commission is charged with implementing a bold plan to remake the Caribbean nation after a January earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 people, left 1.3 million people homeless, and leveled the capital of what was already one of the world's poorest countries.

Adding to its woes is a cholera epidemic that since October has claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 people, overburdening an already fragile health system.

Holding the purse strings to 10 billion dollars of international aid money pledged to Haiti over the long term, Clinton appeared to be losing his patience at times during a seven-hour meeting in the Dominican Republic.

The fact that only 40 percent of the rubble will be cleared by next August -- 19 months after the quake -- is "totally unacceptable" and either more money or a different methodology is needed, he said.

Clinton asked Haitian delegates in particular if they would be happy to give board approval for new projects over 10 million dollars via email to speed the process up.

"If it's consistent with the plan we ought to be able to circulate it to all of you over the Internet and let you approve it immediately if it is fully funded, or to the extent that it is funded," Clinton said.

"We could have been working on these housing projects, fully funded, and there could be Haitians working today for two months ahead of what would otherwise be the case."

Clinton demanded an answer from Haitian representatives at next month's meeting and threatened to call each member individually if it meant things would accelerate.

Against the backdrop of disputed presidential elections, it's clear that patience, in certain quarters, is wearing thin with Haitian President Rene Preval and his administration.

Clinton's wife Hillary, the US secretary of state, warned back in April that the international community could ill afford to fall back on failed strategies and must never work around the Haitian government rather than with it.

But this week she admitted frustration that, as the one-year anniversary of the earthquake nears, "there hasn't been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that is called for."

Since the quake, tens of thousands of Haitians mainly in Port-au-Prince have moved into cramped, unsanitary camps, and are living in shacks with sheet metal roofs, plastic tents and makeshift tarp dwellings.

One Haitian delegate was angry about the NGO glut in Port-au-Prince, expressing his astonishment at seeing 10 vehicles marked with the Red Cross insignia speeding past his house the other day.

But that was a rare moment of discord in the meeting, which included an update on approved aid projects and an in depth look at certain recovery sectors such as debris removal, housing for quake victims, and health.

Clinton spoke of a fifth meeting of the IHRC at the end of January, by which time the first year anniversary of the disaster will have been marked, and the new president and parliament may have been decided.

The 64-year-old former US president finally mentioned the elephant in the conference room -- Haiti's deadlocked post-election crisis -- telling journalists he wanted to see an "objective" recount and that a transparently fair result was vital to his work.

"It makes it a lot easier for me to do what I do," he said.

"It makes it easier for me to go get the donors to honor their commitments, and far more importantly for Haiti over the long run, it makes it easier for me to get new investors to come in and people to work and create a new economy."

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