Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 6, 2011
It's not clear when Haiti will be fully rebuilt, with five years needed just to rehouse the government, a top minister told AFP as the anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake approached.
The grim assessment by Jacques Gabriel, minister for public works, transport and communication, reflects how Haiti is struggling a year after the January 12 earthquake killed more than 220,000 and left some two million people homeless -- about 20 percent of the population.
"The task will be very heavy, not just in the city, but in the provinces that were concerned and perhaps nationally," Gabriel told AFP in an interview at his temporary office in the once picturesque, now squalid and half-ruined capital Port-au-Prince.
"It's hard to give a time-frame, to say 'two, three, five years.'"
Gabriel, a trained engineer, said even rehousing the government of this stricken nation, where the presidential palace lies in ruins, is not imminent.
"The state should be able to finance the construction of the administrative complex in the next five years," he said in the interview Wednesday.
Haitians living in fetid tent camps are furious that a year after the disaster they are no closer to moving back into real houses. About 1.3 million people had to take shelter in camps, with another 600,000 cramming in with relatives and other hosts.
Aid groups estimate that only five percent of the rubble has been cleared, impeding attempts to rebuild. Officials say that only 40 percent of the rubble will have gone by August, a year and a half after the tragedy.
Former US president Bill Clinton, who is helping to coordinate relief efforts, called that performance "totally unacceptable," while Oxfam says "indecision" is to blame for the lack of progress.
Gabriel admitted that of 390,500 buildings surveyed, less than 1,000 have been repaired by the Haitian authorities.
But he said that rebuilding on such a large scale simply can't be done quickly.
"We have made an evaluation of the damage caused by the quake and we are working on a reconstruction plan for the city center in Port-au-Prince," he said.
"Before rebuilding, you need studies, a global approach, a vision of how to rebuild, what to rebuild, in what conditions and in what ways, taking into account the seismic hazard."
Defending himself against widespread accusations of going too slow, he said, "you also need to educate people, train technicians and build in a new way to avoid new catastrophes."
A first big rehousing project is due to be launched on Wednesday, the anniversary, with a planned construction of 3,000 apartments in a neighborhood near the flattened presidential palace.
"It is a project for public housing with high-rises, but respecting the seismic norms, and housing hundreds of families," he said.
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