Bill Clinton Joins Haitians To Mark 3 Year Anniversary Of Earthquake

6:46 PM, Jan 12, 2013   |    comments
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Courtesy: Getty Images

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti -- Former U.S. president Bill Clinton flew to Haiti on Saturday to join the country's president, Michel Martelly, at an official commemoration of the third anniversary of the earthquake that decimated the capital and killed more than 250,000 people.

The simple, wreath-laying memorial was held at a mass burial site on a barren hillside on the outskirts of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, where neither Clinton, the U.N.'s Special Envoy for Haiti, nor Martelly made speeches.

But after the ceremony, Clinton told reporters that there were signs of progress.

"There's finally begun to be some coverage in the press about the progress that's been made here. And I think that you will see, particularly in the economic sphere, a lot more in the coming year where Haiti is projected to have the highest growth rate in the Caribbean. We had to speed up some of the infrastructure, we had to repair the agriculture, we got to build more houses. We've got to get people out of those tents," Clinton said.

Earlier on Saturday, masses and memorial services were held across Haiti. In the Petionville neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, a relatively well-off community, residents prayed and still struggled to make sense of the tragedy.

"January 12, 2010 - it is like part of our life has been lost. Three years after this catastrophe, we are still saying why? Our trust in God allowed us to go further than that and say, "If everything is at God's will, therefore everything can turn out in a positive way of God's will," said Father Harold Francois.

This year's anniversary is a marked change from the hours-long commemoration the government organized in the last two years, including live musical performances, a series of prayers from Haiti's spiritual leaders, press conferences and a tree-planting ceremony.

In 2011, a major concert outside the palace filled the streets with dancing.

Unlike other years, this third anniversary of the quake was not declared a national holiday. All the same, many businesses chose to shut their doors for the day, and the normally bustling streets were noticeably quieter.

Three years after the earthquake struck reconstruction has been painfully slow, and barely half of the $5 billion pledged by donors has been delivered.

More than 350,000 displaced earthquake victims are still living in camps, many under the threat of eviction, with little relief in sight for most. Only about 6,000 permanent houses have been built since the earthquake.

However, many Haitians continue struggling even after leaving their tents. Corail is a camp just north of Port-au-Prince where hundreds of families have been relocated. Despite small homes with walls, many complain of isolation from the capital, crime in the camp and high prices. Clautaire Fenel is the camp president.

"We can say that there are over 1,200 families that are living here in the camp and I don't see anything good happening for them. Imagine that there are children that go to school without taking a shower here in Corail because the mother cannot afford to buy a bucket of water. At the same time, you can't find houses that have rice and beans and can't afford a bag of charcoal to cook and the children go to bed without eating," he said.

Meanwhile, a perception of government corruption lingers among many still struggling.

"My message to the international donors is that the money they gave to help the people in Haiti is being put to use for the interest of other people instead. It is used to buy luxury cars, pay for hotels and go to high-priced restaurants paid in U.S. dollars," said Fenel.

Still, there are some visible signs of progress beginning to emerge. An estimated 80 percent of the rubble left by collapsed buildings has been removed, and some long-term development projects in Haiti's north were inaugurated in recent months, including a $300 million industrial park in Caracol and an expansion of Cap Haitien's airport to accommodate international carriers.

More than 80 new schools have been built by the Jamaica-based cellphone company, Digicel, and a modern teaching hospital, built by the charity Partners In Health, was inaugurated in the central Haiti town of Mirebalais.

As Haiti marks three years since a 7.0 earthquake devastated the country, former U.S. President Bill Clinton looks at the progress that has been made. Still, thousands of earthquake survivors struggle on a daily basis.


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