Haiti Prime Minister highlights headway 4 years after quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) The Haitian government delivered a progress report Friday on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that wracked the deeply poor Caribbean nation.

With senior officials at his side, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe led a presentation to journalists that outlined accomplishments in such areas as housing, education, tourism and construction since the devastating quake of Jan. 12, 2010.

Showing slides, Lamothe highlighted a drop in the number of people living in settlements, the construction of more than 5,000 homes, the arrival of more than 700,000 tourists last year, the distribution of 55,000 seed kits to farmers and economic growth.

"I think (the rebuilding effort) has gone very well, enormously well, considering the enormous challenges and the enormous lack of resources that we had when we started," Lamothe told The Associated Press in a brief interview following his talk.

The earthquake struck the capital of Port-au-Prince and other cities to the south, destroying thousands of buildings and producing a death toll reported at 316,000 people, although no one knows exactly how many died. Some 1.5 million people moved into makeshift settlements that became visible symbols for the devastation and desperation.

Foreign governments and humanitarian groups rushed to offer billions of dollars in reconstruction aid. But the money hasn't flowed in as promised, partly because of worries about Haiti's political infighting and corruption as well as the reluctance of donors to provide funds amid continued global economic weakness.

One of the most criticized aspects of Haiti's recovery effort has been providing housing for people displaced by the quake. From its peak, the number of people living in gloomy encampments has fallen to 146,000 at 271 sites, the International Organization for Migration said Friday. The drop stems from a mix of voluntary departures, distribution of rental subsidies and violent evictions.

Housing activists complain that the decline doesn't reflect an increase in housing availability a problem conceded by the prime minister: "We have to do more in fixing the difficult housing problems in order to have a long-term housing solution," Lamothe said.

Looking ahead to further reconstruction, Lamothe said his government has drafted legislation to require non-government groups to register and report their spending plans as a way to avoid duplication with other groups. An estimated 10,000 such groups are working in Haiti but no one really knows how many are here.

"We want to work with the NGOs, but we want the NGOs to work on the priorities of the Haitian government as expressed by the strategic national development plan," Lamothe said.