Haiti reconstruction on track but more needs to be done, says Clinton

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Port-au-Prince - Former United States president Bill Clinton, today, ended his first trip as United Nations special envoy to Haiti by praising reconstruction work after hurricanes that killed 800 people and caused US $1 billion in damage - but he also emphasized the need to move forward quickly.

The 2008 storms wiped out the homes of 165,000 families, and left 800,000 people in urgent need of help. The Haitian government is carrying out construction with the support of international donors, UNDP and other UN agencies.

Clinton compared the condition in Haiti with post-hurricane situations in the United States. "The tragedy of what happened here last year is that 80 percent of the damage was done by the water, and only 20 percent by the wind - unlike in the US where damage has been mainly caused by wind," Clinton said. He was accompanied by Haitian President Rene Preval, and UN representatives in Haiti.

"This explains investments in equipment and training of staff working on almost 17 sites across the country," he said. "The work being done at the [Quinte] river is excellent. That is the right approach to prevent future damages. We should safely rebuild in a way that not only creates a lot of jobs but also prevents disasters in future storms."

During his three-day visit to Haiti, Clinton visited several projects, including UNDP's water rehabilitation initiative in Gonaives, the city worst affected by the storms. More than 25,000 people were employed to rehabilitate the watershed that supplies and protects the city and surrounding farmlands.

The workers - almost half of them women - cleared irrigation channels, rebuilt terraces and shored up container walls. Over 4,000 jobs were created to rebuild the course of the Quinte River, and to diminish risks of further disasters, in an initiative financed by Norway, the UK Department for International Development and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in addition to UNDP.

"A lot has been done; but there is still more to be done," said Marc-Andre Franche, UNDP Haiti deputy country director. "We are still worried about the early recovery works (...) so we are happy to have President Clinton here in Haiti. He appreciated the joint UN agencies' work in cleaning the city [Gonaives] after the storms."

Clinton also visited an ecological waste management project in the poor community of Carrefour Feuilles, located 2.6 kilometers south of Port-au-Prince. The UNDP-run project created nearly 400 jobs - indirectly benefitting 150,000 people. Hundreds of community members are working to improve the urban environment by collecting, recycling and transforming solid waste. They produce cooking briquettes that replace wood charcoal and will produce compost for agriculture, both new sources of revenue. This is a result of a partnership between local authorities, a private bank and international donors.

"This community-led project and its organization are contributing to greater stability and the reduction of gang violence, once prevalent in the zone," Franche said. The project - financed by UNDP, India, Brazil and South Africa - also supported the construction of a public market to enhance commerce and stimulate the local economy.

Clinton's three day visit to Haiti aimed to support the country's efforts to better prepare for hurricanes, generate jobs and further improve the delivery of basic social services. Clinton also aimed to assess how the UN, civil society and the international donor community can better align their efforts and incorporate their work within the Haitian government's recovery plan.

For decades, Haiti has been the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, with 78 percent of its people living on less than US$2 per day. The country has a 60 percent infant mortality rate and 70 percent unemployment. Most Haitians live off informal trade. Poor housing conditions leave the population extremely vulnerable to natural disasters.