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With Haiti still in ruins from earthquake, rebuilding plans sputter

A boy walks in front of a structure that collapsed because of heavy rain last week at the Corail refugee camp on the outskirts of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.

Associated Press

A boy walks in front of a structure that collapsed because of heavy rain last week at the Corail refugee camp on the outskirts of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.

WASHINGTON — Three months after donors at a U.S.-sponsored conference pledged more than $5.3 billion to rebuild Haiti, just a small fraction of the money has been disbursed and a special reconstruction commission has barely started to function, U.N. and aid officials say.

U.S. lawmakers and international aid officials have expressed mounting concern about the slow recovery in the hemisphere's poorest country, where about 230,000 people died and about 2 million were displaced in the Jan. 12 earthquake. Despite ambitious plans to "build back better," as U.N. and American officials have promised, the reconstruction has been hobbled by a lack of coordination and cash and a virtually incapacitated Haitian government, officials and experts say.

The United States has not disbursed a penny of the roughly $900 million it pledged for reconstruction this year, according to haitispecialenvoy.org, the U.N. website. Although the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions on short-term emergency aid, the rest of the funds are in a supplemental budget bill that has been held up in Congress by an unrelated dispute over state aid.

"There are worrisome signs that the rebuilding process in Haiti has stalled," said a recent report issued by Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, about 180 million square feet of rubble is still piled where it sat after quake, according to U.N. estimates; and only 5,000 of the 125,000 temporary shelters promised by the international community have been built.

There have been some successes: the provision of thousands of tents, as well as clean water, food and medical care for more than 1 million people. There have been no widespread outbreaks of disease.

The March 31 donors' conference at the United Nations was supposed to launch Haiti on the path to recovery. Its president, Rene Preval, unveiled an ambitious plan to rebuild infrastructure and decentralize jobs and homes away from the overcrowded capital.

A centerpiece of the plan was to be the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which would coordinate donor aid with the Haitian government's plans and monitor for fraud. U.S. officials saw the commission, which was to be co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and staffed with technical experts, as a sort of stand-in for the shattered government.

But Preval was slow to warm to the commission, U.S. officials say, and it took weeks to get Haitian government approval and assemble a staff. The commission's board has held only one meeting, on June 17, at which it approved $31 million in projects.

Clinton and Bellerive said in a recent New York Times op-ed that only 10 percent of the $5.3 billion pledged at the U.N. conference had been disbursed in Haiti.

With Haiti still in ruins from earthquake, rebuilding plans sputter 07/18/10 [Last modified: Sunday, July 18, 2010 11:18pm]

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