No electricity at home, so Haitians study in parks
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- Anode Fidele, a high school
student in Haiti, visits downtown Place Jeremie two or three times a
week to study for her classes.
Rather than staying at home, where many feel compelled to retreat in fear
of street crime in this poor Caribbean nation, Fidele, 18, braves the public
plaza at night, coming around 7 p.m. and leaving at around 9 or 10.
She has little choice. In the past few months, state-owned Electricity
(EdH) has left most of the capital's 2.5 million residents in the dark for much of the time.
"This is a grave problem -- the government doesn't give us electricity
said Fidele, taking a break from reading her philosophy book. "Since the
park is the only place with electricity, I come here."
She was not the only one that night. The Carrefour-Feuilles district plaza,
with people playing basketball or just hanging out, has also become one of a
handful of popular places for Port-au-Prince residents to find light to read at
Blackouts have grown increasingly common in the capital, with many people
cut off from electricity for anywhere from 16 to 22 hours a day. In some of the
capital's congested shantytowns, people go days without electricity.
Even the wealthy with inverters that convert battery-stored DC power to
current suffer because the electric company cannot pump enough energy to
recharge the batteries.
Students who are not lucky enough to live near a lighted public plaza have
modify their study schedules according to that of EdH. If the government
supplies power between 3 and 5 a.m., students wake up and study between
those hours. If they do not have any electricity, they may go to class
But two government deals offer hope: a joint agreement with Miami-based
Energy International and Haytian Tractor in Port-au-Prince and another with a
private engineering firm based in the Dominican Republic.
The former is a $5 million deal that would provide 20 megawatts of electricity
per day for a minimum of eight months. It was signed in April and is scheduled
to go in effect in mid-June, said Reynold Bonnefil, owner of Haytian Tractor.
The other is a $20-million contract that would provide 50 megawatts per
over a three-year period, officials said.
Mismanagement and politics
EdH general director Pierre Francois Sildor said the contracts should bring
about 33 percent more electricity to Haiti and give the company some breathing
room to make repairs to broken generators.
In addition, recent heavy rainfall in the Central Plateau increased power
production at a hydroelectric plant, helping EdH provide six to eight hours of
power a day compared to about three hours from February through April, Sildor
said, adding that Haiti needs 350 megawatts per day.
But even if these deals pan out, critics are not sure the situation will
since EdH's problems of "mismanagement" and "politics" could continue, said
economist Jean-Claude Paulvin, president of ECOSOF, an economic consulting
"There's the problem of management, to the extent that people cannot properly
manage the plant. ... There is about 50 percent of distributed power that is not
being paid for. It is stolen," said Paulvin, who also serves as vice president for
the Association of Haitian Economists.
Paulvin said residents in poorer neighborhoods resort to stealing electricity
because they cannot afford it but feel entitled to it. It is also a political problem,
he said, because the government cannot enforce the laws.
Haiti's justice system is "poorly organized and nearly moribund" and "impunity
remains a problem," a U.S. State Department Human Rights report said last
EdH union members say they disconnect residents who do not pay for
electricity but they say they have been attacked and beaten when they have tried
to cut off service or collect payments.
Haiti's infrastructure problems stem from decades of neglect and a political
crisis that has gripped the country for years. Donor nations suspended some
$500 million in aid over disputed legislative elections held in May 2000.
The administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and opposition parties
have failed to reach agreement on how to remedy the election dispute.
"The government and EdH should put their heads together," said Auguste
Joseph, 19, another high school student studying in Carrefour-Feuilles. "I hope
they will respect the contract (deals with electric providers) so that we will have
a solution to the problem."
Copyright 2001 Reuters.