May 21, 2002

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 to her
                 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. The
                 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 donor
                 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 infections
                 and diseases spread through contaminated water are a leading cause of death.

                 In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus has submitted a resolution that
                 urges President Bush to release the loans.

                 "In every sense, the disbursement of these loans can mean the difference between
                 life and death," says Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California.

                 The World Health Organization estimates only 46 percent of Haiti's 8 million people
                 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, women,
                 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 even
                 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 million in
                 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 forward
                 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 secretary
                 of state for communication.

                 The opposition accuses the government of using the withholding of aid as an alibi
                 for its own chronic mismanagement following the 2000 elections.

                 Even if the loans are approved, their disbursement is expected to be delayed by
                 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 people I
                 can't get any water," says vegetable vendor Lucienne Mira, 21, overwhelmed by the
                 line at a public fountain.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.