Haiti pays tribute to quake victims

2015-01-12 12:48
(Hector Retamal, AFP)

(Hector Retamal, AFP)

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Port-au-Prince - Haiti marks the fifth anniversary of the massive and deadly earthquake that ravaged an already desperately poor nation on Monday, against the backdrop of ongoing epidemic and political crisis.

But on Sunday, people in the Caribbean country were already honouring about 300 000 people who died in what has been called one of the worst natural disasters of modern times.

It flattened much of the capital, crushing thousands under concrete.

"We need to think about those who were killed, and the lessons we can learn from the disaster," a pastor said at a packed Sunday service.

Five years on, the Haitian government has asked people to observe a day or remembrance and honour for those who lost their lives in the 12 January 2010 earthquake.

National flags will be flown at half-staff as a sign of mourning.

Many still in tents

"On the 12th, I am going to stay at home. And I am going to pray in memory of those who were killed," said Mirlie St-Preux, aged 24, who remembers the genuine shock the quake delivered while she was out in the street.

"After all the shaking, I just could not believe there were so many victims, and so much devastation."

Exactly five years after the disaster, which left 1.5 million people homeless, 79 397 people remain displaced, spread across the country's 105 camps, according to the International Migration Organisation.

Seismologist Claude Preptit called for improved readiness.

"In the end, Haiti is always at risk of having an earthquake," he said.

"Prevention costs less than rebuilding does."

Last-minute deal

President Michel Martelly and national lawmakers struck a last-minute deal late on Sunday to hold new elections by the end of this year, defusing a political crisis that had the nation on edge.

The sitting legislature in the impoverished Caribbean nation was to reach the end of its mandate on Monday, and no date had been set for elections, making a perilous political vacuum possible.

Polls to elect new lawmakers have been postponed several times, and no new date had been set.

Protesters, who have taken to the streets in near-daily demonstrations, had accused Martelly of tacitly allowing the assembly to expire in order to rule by decree. In turn, he had accused the opposition of blocking an electoral law that would allow a vote.

Martelly and lawmakers agreed to have elections organised before the end of 2015 for two thirds of the Senate and deputies, as well as for president.

Political friction

New Prime Minister Evans Paul, named by Martelly on 26 December, has been unable to take office as a result of the political friction between the president and lawmakers.

A group of senators has proposed that a new prime minister be chosen.

Haiti's post-quake recovery is additionally hampered by an epidemic blamed on the UN troops there to help.

The United Nations has denied legal responsibility for the ongoing cholera outbreak that has killed 8 000 Haitians, but all scientific evidence points to poor sanitation at a peacekeeping base.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to keep contributing aid to Haiti, citing some progress made, and congratulating Haiti on its perseverance.

Read more on:    un  |  ban ki-moon  |  haiti  |  haiti earthquake

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