Haiti marks fourth anniversary of quake that killed 250,000

AFP , Sunday 12 Jan 2014

Haiti marked four years on Sunday since a violent earthquake shattered the impoverished nation, which is still struggling to recover from the widespread devastation that killed 250,000 people.

Haitians, many dressed in white, flocked to church services for somber remembrances for those who perished in the tragedy on 12 January, 2010, which left about a million people homeless.

But four years on, nearly 200,000 people are still living in dire conditions in temporary shelters, and residents complain of having received little help since NGOs left.

President Michel Martelly, who has faced protests over the slow pace of rebuilding, declared the anniversary a "day of reflection and commemoration."

Martelly later in the day was to lay flowers at the site of a mass grave where many of the quake's victims were buried.

Flags were to be lowered throughout the country and businesses closed to mark the anniversary, while radio and television stations were encouraged to broadcast programming suitable to the emotional occasion.

The devastation is still keenly felt in Port-au-Prince, the teeming capital of the Americas' poorest country.

Faced with criticism over the slow pace of rebuilding, especially of administrative buildings -- including the legislative palace -- Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe called on Haiti's 10 million people to unite.

"We are going to press on the accelerator to advance the main projects, and Haitians will be proud of reconstruction," Lamothe told the press last week, presenting models of several public buildings that are under construction.

Church ministers on Sunday railed against the time it was taking to reconstruct buildings that were largely leveled throughout the capital.

"We are still waiting for reconstruction of the country that has been promised by authorities, but we are certain of getting the reconstruction promised by God," one pastor told his congregation.

Opposition critics have attacked the government for failing to make better progress on rebuilding.

The government says that a large portion of the estimated $381 million donated by governments and organizations the world over was spent on the post-earthquake emergency and not for reconstruction.

"We were lucky to have help from Venezuela. Most of our projects were accomplished with Venezuelan money. With slim means, we accomplished a lot of things," Lamothe told AFP, expressing hope that the international community would make good on its aid pledges.

He criticized the international community for failing to provide promised aid of nearly $9 billion.

"If the international community had fulfilled its commitment, we would have accomplished 10 times more than we have achieved," Lamothe said.

"We must continue to make the international community aware.

"But Haiti is better off four years after the earthquake even if there remains much to be done."

Haiti has recently seen an increase in anti-government protests, some breaking out into violent clashes.

Protesters have called for the resignation of Martelly, who has been in office since 2011, and are also demanding better living conditions.

Plans for rebuilding Port-au-Prince have been presented to the public, but the construction never happened.

"Reconstruction of the capital will require the creation of a new downtown and the creation of an administrative center," Lamothe said.

Some 42 public buildings were among those flattened during the earthquake, and most are still lying wrecked.

"The country was deeply hurt... we have resettled the homeless and the construction of seven ministry and public offices is under way," Lamothe told AFP.

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