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Haiti earthquake anniversary highlights faltering aid effort

On the Haiti earthquake anniversary, reminders that many Haitians still go without access to basic services such as access to hospital care despite the influx of over $1 billion in aid.

By Alice SperiCorrespondent / January 11, 2011

Haitians attend ceremonies to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti

For more than six weeks last fall, a brand new obstetrics hospital remained empty and closed, its Ikea furniture still wrapped in plastic, a reminder of how far Port-au-Prince had to go to recover from the Haiti earthquake.

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Meanwhile across the street, a camp with 1,500 families had no access to medical care beyond occasional visits by the Haitian Red Cross. The hospital, commissioned by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has since partially opened.

But questions remain about why the project in the neighborhood of Delmas 33 was delayed by the government, a symbol of the bureaucracy that has stood in the way of many of the projects run by the more than 900 NGOs that descended on Haiti after last January’s earthquake, which killed 230,000 people and left 2 million homeless.

IN PICTURES: Life in a tent city

Why the delay at the hospital? The Haitian Ministry of Health said MSF didn't have permission to build and operate it, according to the Norwegian construction company Normeca. “We are so confused, we have been working so hard and see so much need around us,” Odd Rustad, a construction manager on the project, said during a tour of the hospital on Aug. 31. The Health Ministry closed the hospital to visitors soon afterward.

On the eve of the earthquake anniversary, the capital’s streets look little different than they did 12 months ago. An estimated 810,000 people – a majority unemployed – continue to live in 1,150 camps, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Delays and disagreements have stalled much of the reconstruction efforts and caused consternation to Haitians and international observers.

Government corruption

Oxfam, in a report released last week, blamed the lack of progress “on a crippling combination of Haitian government indecision and rich donor countries’ too frequent pursuit of their own aid priorities. In Haiti, power and decision making are concentrated in the hands of very few,” the report said, calling on the government to reduce corruption, especially in view of the ongoing – and contested – presidential election.

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