Time for aid groups to 'step aside' in Haiti: MSF

10th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A French-based medical charity said Monday it was time for aid agencies to "step aside" in Haiti to allow the government to take a lead in rebuilding the impoverished nation rocked by a deadly earthquake a year ago.

"We did what we were supposed to do," Stefano Zannini, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) mission, told a news conference.

"One year after the disaster, it's time for humanitarians to step aside."

But organizations like MSF, which has been in Haiti for some two decades, cannot pull out of the poorest country in the Americas unless the Haitian government pulls its weight in helping to rebuild the country after the quake, Zannini said.

Reconstruction has been slow-moving, with only five percent of the rubble cleared in the year since the January 12, 2010 quake, which laid waste to large areas of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and neighboring towns; killed more than 200,000 and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless.

A year later, more than one million Haitians are still living in squalid tent cities.

Of 2.1 billion dollars pledged in 2010 for reconstruction, less than half has been given, with many donor countries delaying disbursement of the funds, fearing they will disappear into a Haitian government hole of corruption.

"How many hospitals have been built in the last 12 months by the national authorities with the money pledged by the international community? Zero," said Zannini.

"Have sufficient schools been rebuilt for the children to go to study? Not at all," he said, adding that building homes for the displaced, hospitals and schools should be priorities in the reconstruction effort.

MSF has already opened a new hospital in Haiti, with another facility due to open in the coming weeks and two more set to be built in the next few years, Zannini said.

The international medical charity has 18,000 people working in Haiti, and has treated 350,000 people in the clinics and tent facilities it set up there after the quake.

It has run its operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the past year, which has seen a Haitian woman giving birth in an MSF facility and a man, woman or child from the island nation entering an MSF operating theater every 30 minutes since January 12, said Zannini.

"Now it's time for longer-term efforts to develop, for other actors to intervene," he said, referring to the Haitian authorities.

But a year after the quake, the poorest country in the Americas was still largely dependent on aid from emergency services like MSF, with "no end in sight at the moment," MSF international president Unni Karunakara said.

© 2011 AFP

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