By Marta Hurtado
GENEVA – The reconstruction of Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake will take years, representatives of U.N. agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Tuesday.
This Wednesday will mark one year since a magnitude-7.0 temblor left 222,570 dead, a similar number injured and 1.5 million people homeless in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
At a press conference in Geneva addressing the situation one year after the quake, the United Nations agencies asked Tuesday for “realism” in the matter and said repeatedly that there is still a long way to go.
While urging people not to “underestimate” what has been accomplished over the past year, Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, acknowledged the need “to give a real push to accelerate recovery efforts.”
“With 800,000 people still in the camps, we should be realistic about the time necessary to rehouse everyone,” Byrs said, forseeing a process lasting “months if not years.”
She said the numbers indicate that rehousing is taking place at an average of 100,000 people a month.
“While these figures seem a positive development, there is a long way to go,” said the director general of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing.
One of the main problems in rehousing people currently living in camps for displaced persons is the lack of land available in urban areas and conflicts over property.
“Land is available but only outside the cities. We can build houses there, but they would lack basic services – sanitation, schools, medical centers – this is an effort that could take 10 to 15 years. It’s not that we’re not giving our support, but the complexity of it all must be understood,” Matthias Schmale, International Federation of the Red Cross undersecretary-general, said.
A short-term solution for the rehousing dilemma would be the construction of “transition shelters,” flimsy houses made of wood or light metal but sturdier that the tents being used now.
“The Spanish Red Cross has a lot of know-how in building transition shelters like that, thanks to its experience in Central America, and that could be a viable solution,” Schmale said.
Another challenge is to repair the “yellow houses,” uninhabitable homes that were damaged by the temblor but not completely destroyed, of which there are about 80,000.
A year after the earthquake, the World Food Program is still providing meals for 2 million people, half the number receiving WFP rations during the first months after the catastrophe.
With regard to the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in October, Fadela Chaib, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said that it has left 3,651 dead and has infected 171,304 people.
“The epidemic still hasn’t peaked, something we expect to happen in the coming weeks,” Chaib said, adding, however, that one positive aspect is that the mortality rate has dropped from 9 percent at the beginning of the epidemic to 2.2 percent now.
“There will be certainly many more cases of cholera in Haiti, it’s certain. But what is sure is that fewer people will die,” she said.
As for the critical aspect of drinking water and sanitation, Unicef said that the situation is still catastrophic, given that only one out of every two people has access to potable water, and 89 percent of inhabitants in rural areas have no access to latrines.
With regard to the $1.5 billion promised for dealing with the catastrophe, 75 percent of that sum has been received to date.
“The priority for 2011 will be the nation’s recovery, and the whole humanitarian community is committed to that,” Byrs said. EFE