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On eve of Haiti visit, Oda cites progress

Canada's International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda (C) is escorted past journalists after testifying before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 18, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Two years after Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda will travel Monday to see a country with less rubble but little reconstruction.

The 2010 earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, killing 300,000, destroying tens of thousands of buildings, and displacing 1.5 million from their homes. Nations that proudly pledged to rebuild troubled Haiti in 2010, Canada among the loudest, have seen much slower progress than they'd hoped, and half a million Haitians remain in tent camps.

"Are we satisfied with the progress? Probably not as much as our expectations led us to hope for," Ms. Oda said in an interview. "I think the hopes were really very high and the intentions were really all the right intentions. But you have to always remember what Haiti was before the earthquake."

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There has been progress since the first anniversary of the quake, and there is perhaps less of a sense of failed hope. Half of the ubiquitous rubble that jammed streets and obstructed buildings and houses has now been cleared, where only 10 per cent had been cleared a year ago.

But though there are fewer people in tent camps, the flow of people to real homes appears to have slowed. Part of the problem, Ms. Oda said, is that for some who are left, leaving the camps means relocating where they won't have access to services provided by aid agencies, such as medicine, education and food.

Canada, Ms. Oda said, wants to place a priority on getting people out of the tents. "That's going to take two to three years," she said.

Canada will focus a part of its aid efforts on maternal and child health, through existing health-care facilities, including a hospital near a major tent camp where Canada funds free pre- and post-natal care, and deliveries. It is also funding education and, in a country with a devastated economy, will try to help rebuild agriculture.

"Haiti is a long-term commitment. But we're committed," Ms. Oda said.

She said she is excited about visiting now. Reconstruction was set back by cholera, then political turmoil from a stolen election, and after Michel Martelly won the presidency, stalemate over forming a new government.

When she last visited in mid-2011, a prime minister had been named but not a cabinet. It took months, but a new government is in place. The interim reconstruction commission, headed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Haitian PM Max Bellerive, has been replaced with a Haitian reconstruction minister. That at least holds the potential for aid that helps build the capacity of Haiti's ministers and ministries, she said.

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Whether that happens is a key question that lingers over Haiti's future. Haiti's political system has been marked by deep corruption, rivalries and coups, and a lack of public-sector expertise even before the country's civil service was wiped out by the quake.

Opponents of Mr. Martelly, the former pop star, complain bitterly about his conduct, but Ms. Oda said progress was made in Haiti under the former president, too, and though the inexperienced Mr. Martelly has had missteps, there is reason to hope for progress now.

'The political fragility of the country is a reality we have to understand," she said. "In my assessment, he's making more positive steps than negative steps. And he's got a very good relationship with Canada, our [embassy] and our ambassador."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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