June 20, 2001

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 of Haiti
                  (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 very often,"
                 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, filled
                 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 AC
                 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 to
                 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 day
                 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 improve
                 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.