Pattaya Daily News

12 January 2011 :: 13:01:27 pm 48838

Haiti mourns its earthquake dead

Haiti began two days of remembrance ceremonies honoring nearly quarter of a million people who died in an earthquake that leveled the impoverished country a year ago.
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Government officials went early to a mass grave outside the capital Port-au-Prince, where some of the more than 220,000 victims of the January 12, 2010 quake lie. Ceremonies were to culminate with a minute of silence on Wednesday at 4:53 pm, the exact moment the quake struck.

The anniversary finds Haiti barely healed from the trauma inflicted 12 months ago.

The economy and infrastructure are crippled, a cholera outbreak continues to kill and more than 800,000 people live in squalid tent camps, according to a new official count.

The national mourning also comes against a backdrop of political instability over the holding of a runoff round in the elections to replace outgoing President Rene Preval.

Preval and the feuding presidential candidates are expected to bury the hatchet and join the nation’s 10 million people in their grief.

However, speculation is mounting about how Preval will react to a report from international monitors expected to call for removing his favored candidate from the election.

Former US president Bill Clinton, one of the main figures coordinating a massive international aid effort, arrived Tuesday to join ceremonies and said he was “frustrated” by the slow pace of reconstruction.

He also called on the government “to resolve” the election standoff.

However, he did say he was “encouraged” that after repeated delays in organizing the flow of aid money and the implementation of promised projects, “we are doing much better.”

The main event scheduled was an open-air Catholic Mass early Wednesday by the ruins of the Port-au-Prince cathedral, which collapsed during the earthquake and, like most of the ruins from that day, has not been cleared away.

Then at 4:53 pm on Wednesday, Haitians were to observe a minute of silence and release white balloons.

Other events were promised, but there appeared to be little in the way of a formal program, with some items, such as the laying of a first stone at a planned apartment complex, delayed.

Once the ceremonies are over, Haiti will once again have to return to the mountain of tasks confronting the western hemisphere’s poorest country.

That includes clearing rubble, moving people out of tents and back into houses, halting widespread environmental degradation, and rebuilding an education system that currently provides schooling to less than half of all children.

One of the immediate concerns is a cholera outbreak that has so far claimed 3,759 lives, according to the latest Haitian government update, and sickened thousands more. The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the “peak has not been reached,” although the death rate was slowing.

A new report Tuesday, meanwhile, highlighted that the elderly are particularly vulnerable, with 20 percent eating only once a day — at most.

“Older people are a vulnerable group as much as children are. In many cases, older people living in IDP camps do not regularly get one meal a day and are vulnerable to malnutrition,” Gaetan Duhamel, at the charity HelpAge International said.

The most overriding issue to resolve though will be the stalemate in holding a second round in the presidential election to replace Preval.

A diplomatic source said Monday that international monitors from the Organization of American States (OAS) want the ruling party candidate to drop out because of voting irregularities.

If the Preval-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, is pressured to quit the runoff vote, Haitians could face a renewal of rioting that claimed five lives after last month’s announcement of preliminary results.

The first round of voting in Haiti on November 28 produced no clear winner. Celestin was awarded second place, narrowly ahead of the third-placed candidate, a popular singer called Michel Martelly.

With Martelly claiming fraud, a planned January 16 runoff vote against first-place candidate Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, has had to be delayed — probably until February.

According to the diplomatic source, the OAS — which was called in to rule on the dispute — will recommend that Martelly, not Celestin, now meet Manigat in the decisive round of voting.

The OAS said Tuesday it had not yet managed to meet with Preval to hand in the report.

Report by : Bangkok post

Photo : Internet   Category : World News

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