Money to ease Haiti's water crisis held up over politics
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Water gushes from a row of spigots as
people crowd around, jostling for a chance to fill buckets and bottles.
Nadine Jean, a 20-year-old student, must lug her bucket up into the hills
family's home a mile and a half away.
"Where I live, there's no water at all," she says.
Few people have access to clean water in Haiti, and most must pay for it.
Inter-American Development Bank could help, but a $54 million loan to improve
access to potable water is on hold because of Haiti's political crisis, hampering even
modest progress in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
Other Development Bank loans also are held up. The United States, a major
to the Washington-based bank, has blocked release of nearly $150 million in
low-interest loans until Haiti's government and opposition settle a long-running
election dispute. Also frozen are loans of $19 million for education reform, $50
million for improved roads and $23 million for medical supplies and clinics.
Haiti's government says the water loan is particularly important because
and diseases spread through contaminated water are a leading cause of death.
In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus has submitted a resolution
urges President Bush to release the loans.
"In every sense, the disbursement of these loans can mean the difference
life and death," says Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California.
The World Health Organization estimates only 46 percent of Haiti's 8 million
have safe drinking water. Networks of water pipes haven't kept up with heavy
migration from rural areas to cities, and many water sources are contaminated.
Crowds are common at public fountains that sell filtered water in the capital,
Port-au-Prince, a city of 2.5 million people where even well water must be purified.
At the hillside neighborhood of Tete de l'Eau, which means fountainhead,
children and teen-agers crowd at the taps, passing coins through a metal grate to an
attendant. It costs 10 Haitian cents (2 U.S. cents) for a gallon or 40 cents (8 cents)
for five gallons. Demand is heavy.
"Hey, get out of the way!" one girl shouts.
"Why are you pushing me?" another demands of a boy filling a bottle ahead of her.
Elsewhere, people buy water from pr ivate vendors, often paying more. So
water eats away at precious income in Haiti, where the vast majority live on less
than $1 a day.
U.S. officials defend the freezing of loans and channeling of nearly $55
aid this year to non-governmental agencies as a way to support democracy in Haiti.
"We do not believe enough has been done yet to move the political process
to assure ourselves that additional aid will be used in the most effective way at this
time," Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier this year.
The European Union similarly has frozen $45 million in grants.
That only "makes the political situation worse," says Mario Dupuy, Haiti's
of state for communication.
The opposition accuses the government of using the withholding of aid as
for its own chronic mismanagement following the 2000 elections.
Even if the loans are approved, their disbursement is expected to be delayed
required reforms. And many Haitians agree the Inter-American Development Bank's
water loan of $54 million would be a drop in the bucket.
Haiti's deforested hills are turning into a desert. At current erosion
rates, all of
Haiti's arable land will be lost by 2040, ecologists say.
Meanwhile, finding water for washing, cooking and drinking is a daily struggle.
"The biggest problem is that sometimes I come here and there are so many
can't get any water," says vegetable vendor Lucienne Mira, 21, overwhelmed by the
line at a public fountain.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.