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Haitians frustrated by slow aid trickle

Six months after a violent earthquake left a trail of destruction and misery in their country, Haitians are growing impatient at the slow trickle of aid and the crawling pace of reconstruction.

world Updated: Jul 10, 2010 10:06 IST

Six months after a violent earthquake left a trail of destruction and misery in their country, Haitians are growing impatient at the slow trickle of aid and the crawling pace of reconstruction.

"There are no prospects, no means to rebuild. The international community promised us money, but will it ever come?" asked a baffled Franck Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince.

In the capital's streets and under tents that still house hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by the disaster, frustration is building.

"When we were asked to come to this camp, we were promised houses. Where are they?" asked Jean-Auguste Petit-Frere as he pointed to a model of a home set up on the site by a Jamaican firm and set to be valued at 15,000 dollars a piece.

According to the United Nations office in Haiti, nearly 4,000 homes of 18 square meters (194 square feet) each have been built in a project that anticipates building some 10,000 houses.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Nigel Fischer, acknowledged there were "many challenges" in putting Haiti back on its feet and coordinating aid, including making sure the affected population has access to essential care.

He also warned that 130 tent cities have been identified as at risk from the hurricane season that could add insult to injury in a country that was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere even before the quake.

The French Red Cross, which has promised to build 30,000 transitional homes in collaboration with the US Red Cross, has just begun construction of 500 in a village east of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

But the figures pale in comparison to the 1.5 million people left homeless by the January 12 quake that measured 7.0 on the moment magnitude scale killed 250,000 people.

Among those still living in squalid temporary plastic tents under sweltering temperatures are half a million children at risk of crime, exploitation and abuse.

They often lack decent sanitation and proper protection against an imminent risk of hurricanes.

"Children in Haiti are among those having the hardest time recovering from the earthquake," Save the Children's director of emergencies Gareth Owen said in a statement.

"Many are still trying to cope with the grief of losing loved ones, their homes, their toys - everything that gave them their sense of identity.

"It's hard for an adult to cope, let alone a child."

Some of the kids were so scarred, they fear stepping into any concrete building. Others left orphaned are hired by families in camps as workers in exchange for food, according to Save the Children.

"I cannot keep on living under a tent where it is hot day and night. Who will pay for my home? Who will help me?" asked Maxene Gabriel, whose home was left inhabitable by the quake.

Novelist Gary Victor expressed disappointment the Haitian government has made few concrete proposals.

"It seems to me that the international community is taking us for a ride. There have been many promises, but nothing has been done," he said.

The massive aid effort is moving from emergency assistance into the long-term recovery stage for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has launched temporary job initiatives employing some 35,000 women and men.

The number of employed workers under the programme, which typically pays them with a mixture of food and cash, is expected to reach 140,000 before the end of the year.

"We're supporting huge numbers of people who would otherwise struggle to put food on their tables," WFP country director Myrta Kaulard said in a statement.

WFP is also helping provide hot meals to 655,000 school-aged children each day, a figure expected to reach 800,000 by the end of the year.

And in another glimmer of hope, viewers of the hit reality television competition "American Idol" donated over 250,000 dollars to provide solar street lights for the camps and emergency health kits for pregnant women to deliver their babies safely.

But Haitians are angered their leaders seem overwhelmed by the scope of the catastrophe that shattered this tiny Caribbean country.

"The president and the government are absent, while foreigners and non-governmental groups have taken up the reins," said a public transit driver caught in one of the many traffic jams now synonymous with Port-au-Prince, where huge piles of debris still litter the roadside.

Three months after an international conference in New York where world powers promised more than 10 billion dollars in aid over five years, the funds are only trickling in.