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Originally: Few signs of improvement for Haiti

Haiti (AP) – The roads are still bad, hospitals don’t have enough beds and many schools can’t feed their students.

A year after an uprising ousted former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there are few signs of improvement in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, which has received only a fraction of the more than $1 billion US in promised aid needed to rebuild its shattered infrastructure.

Officials from 10 countries and five multilateral institutions will meet Friday in an urgent bid to address the delay, which some say has hindered the interim authority’s ability to govern and could undermine an already traumatized public’s faith in fall elections.

Priorities at the one-day meeting in Cayenne, French Guiana, which Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew plans to attend, include bolstering Haiti’s beleaguered police force to counter a surge in violence and the procurement of additional financing for general elections in October and November, officials say.

“I will be extremely disappointed if we leave without putting money on the table to bring back to Haiti,” UN envoy Juan Gabriel Valdes told reporters ahead of the meeting. “It’s urgent for the population to see progress in order to heal the society.”

But progress has been fleeting so far, most agree. Donor countries and multilateral lending bodies pledged $1.3 billion for Haiti at a July 2004 meeting, yet only $220 million – less than a fifth – has been disbursed to date, said Auguste Kouame, a World Bank official in Haiti.

“There has been an inadequate disbursement of funds,” said Tim Carney, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti who heads the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project.

The United States has given the most so far with $100 million, followed by the World Bank, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and Canada. The money has paid for a handful of projects including garbage collection and electricity subsidies.

Wrapping up a two-day visit here before leaving for Cayenne, Pettigrew on Thursday pledged another $8 million, including funds to cover Haiti’s membership costs to the Caribbean Development Bank and aid for farmers affected by flooding last year.

Officials here say money for more visible items like road construction and more police has yet to arrive. Health and education also remain sorely underfunded, they say, with hospitals unable to provide beds for some patients and many schools unable to feed students.

“We’ve been waiting and we’re still in deep need,” said Roland Pierre, Haiti’s planning minister.

Officials blame the lag in part to bureaucratic wrangling among donor countries, but note that a lack of Haitian professionals in technical areas such as engineering has also slowed projects like road repair.

“It’s not a problem of disorganization. It’s a problem of capacity,” said Nicholas Frelot, a French diplomat who co-ordinates aid programs in Haiti. “A lot of educated Haitians have left for the United States, Canada or France. It’s one of the biggest problems in Haiti right now.”

During his visit to Haiti, Pettigrew was also scheduled to meet interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and members of the UN peacekeeping force to discuss stabilization efforts, including a stalled plan to disarm rival factions blamed for hundreds of killings, officials said.

The aid shortfall has prompted fears that an interim government already hampered by a roiling security crisis and a stagnant economy could be further weakened, undermining public trust in the transitional process.

Armed ex-soldiers who helped oust Aristide in a February 2004 revolt still hold sway throughout much of the countryside while pro-and anti-Aristide gangs wage frequent gun battles in the slums of the capital. More than 400 people have died in recent clashes.

Scarce funds has also meant little job creation for citizens, most of whom are unemployed and survive on less than a $1 a day.

“The assumption is that if people don’t see any difference in their lives, they will see no value in the transition and may not participate in elections” in October and November, said Kouame of the World Bank.

To bolster the interim government’s public standing, officials in Cayenne hope to approve a series of “quick impact” projects in areas of health, infrastructure and education, Kouame said.

The country got a boost on Monday after the Inter-American Development Bank (look at this site) approved $270 million in loans and grants to improve roads and air and seaports, as well as bolster the agriculture sector.

Officials will also focus on securing more funds for elections. Interim leaders had budgeted some $45 million for the voting this fall, but have only received some of the money, Kouame said.

Donors will also seek to raise funds to strengthen Haiti’s police force, which has just 4,500 officers for a population of eight million, Kouame said