PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Haiti on Saturday to join the country’s president, Michel Martelly, at an official commemoration of the third anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed much of the capital, killing more than 250,000 people.
The simple, wreath-laying memorial was held at a mass burial site on a barren hillside at the outskirts of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, where neither Clinton, the U.N.’s Special Envoy for Haiti, nor Martelly made a speech.
“Today we’re here so that we don’t forget, and to do better,” Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told reporters. “We were heavily hit, that’s true. But we’re standing strong to rebuild our country.”
Earlier in the day, Haiti’s government marked the occasion with a purposely low-key ceremony on the grounds of the razed national palace in downtown Port-au-Prince. In a short address, Martelly paid homage to those who perished, and praised the courage of those who survived.
“A little more lonely, a little more vulnerable,” said Martelly. “I express to you my compassion.”
He thanked donors and international aid organizations, and reassured them the ongoing reconstruction effort would be closely evaluated to avoid waste and corruption. “I understand your concern,” he said.
Martelly also announced the launch of a new building code, vowing that another tragedy like that of 2010 would never happen again.
This year’s anniversary was a marked change from the hours-long commemorative ceremonies organized by the government the first two years. It included live musical performances, prayers from Haiti’s spiritual leaders, and press conferences.
Three years after the massive earthquake, reconstruction progress has been painfully slow, and barely half of the $5 billion pledged by donors has been delivered.
About 350,000 displaced earthquake victims still live in camps, with little relief in sight. Only about 6,000 permanent houses have been built.
Still, there are some visible signs of progress. Most of the rubble left by collapsed buildings has been cleaned up, and some long-term development projects in Haiti’s north were inaugurated in recent months, including a $300 million industrial park and an airport expansion to accommodate international flights.
More than 80 schools have been built by the Jamaica-based cellphone company, Digicel. And in the central Haiti town of Mirebalais, and a modern teaching hospital, built by the Partners In Health charity, was inaugurated.
“I‘m encouraged by the work that’s being done on the airports, some of the road construction that’s been built, but we still need a lot more infrastructure work,” Clinton told Reuters after visiting a housing project for displaced earthquake victims and an agricultural and technical training center run by the Mission of Hope, an evangelical development group.
“From my point of view, keeping the investment coming in, dealing with the housing and unlocking the education, those are the things I’d like to see real progress on this year,” Clinton added.
Editing by David Adams, Jackie Frank and Gunna Dickson