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Haiti in political limbo, but aid continues

The US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, is this week visiting Haiti. Shortly after landing at the capital’s airport, she was asked whether the US would cut off aid over ongoing political uncertainty in Haiti.

Despite warning some months ago that Haiti needed fair elections, Mrs Clinton denied that the US government would consider breaking off aid at this juncture. “We have a deep commitment to the Haitian people,” she said.

Preliminary results from the first round of voting in Haiti’s presidential election showed former first lady, Mirlande Manigat, clearly in first place. The current ruling party’s candidate, Jude Celestin, was registered in second place, edging out the independent Michel Martelly. However, after these results caused an uproar in the streets, international monitors working for the Organisation of American States (OAS) have found the second place ballot was indeed rigged. In response, the ruling party of President Rene Preval has said it will withdraw Mr Celestin from any future round of voting. Despite his Inite party having removed its backing, Mr Celestin has refused to confirm if he is pulling out. His position may be made clear on Wednesday, when the electoral commission will announce the new verified results of the first round election.

The second round vote has now been reset for 20 March 2011 and final results will follow at the end of March. Meanwhile, aid agencies continue the vital work of trying to improve the lives of ordinary Haitians and attending to the sick. The cholera outbreak which started in October has now affected over 190,000 people, resulting in nearly 4,000 deaths. Recently, an international medical expert has called on vaccinations to be started. Rita Reyburn, a researcher at the International Vaccine Institute, believes that “mass vaccination campaigns...are the most promising help that we can offer” while proper sanitation and clean water supplies remain uncertain in Haiti.

Foul-smelling sewers and stagnant water are never far away in the capital Port-au-Prince. Near one camp, Barbancourt II, a pool of dirty water nearby to the residents can rise to three feet after rain. The owner of the land, on which over 300 families currently reside, is using the water as a reason for everyone to be evicted. This case highlights the precariousness of life for many Haitians, over a million of whom are currently living in makeshift camps. The United Nations estimates nearly 30,000 have already been evicted from land where they initially found shelter, while an additional 140,000 face the current threat of eviction. Sometimes landowners show up with bulldozers, armed guards or even police to frighten vulnerable residents, many of whom are single mothers or families with young children, the elderly or disabled. There have also been reports of attempted rapes on girls and young women being used as tactic of intimidation. 

The issue of land tenure is complicating any progress to build permanent settlements for the homeless. Only five per cent of the country’s land was officially assigned to owners before the earthquake. Legal rights groups are operating to advise residents of their rights and help them through legal processes where necessary. But until more private or public land is designated as land where new homes can be built, this problem will persist. Haiti certainly needs a new government to be up and running as soon as possible in order to tackle this most pressing of issues.

By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children