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Port-au-Prince, 15 Jan 13

Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 2012 © UN Photo-Logan Abassi

As Haiti marked the third anniversary of a devastating earthquake which claimed over 300,000 lives and left more than 1 million survivors homeless, UN-Habitat announced that it will broaden support to communities and institutions still trying to recover from the disaster.

"The earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 was an unprecedented urban crisis, highlighting chronic vulnerabilities in the city and setting back its development," said UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos in a statement marking the anniversary.

"Over the last three years, we have witnessed the remarkable resolve of the Haitian people to rebuild their previous homes or create new housing solutions and to re-establish their livelihoods," he said.

Besides the human toll, the earthquake destroyed over 200,000 buildings. With a team of 20 professional staff and a project portfolio of more than USD 17 million, UN-Habitat has played an important role in defining the recovery and reconstruction strategy, advocating a quick return to safer neighbourhoods.

The problems tackled by the agency include land tenure, construction standards, and helping involve local communities play a direct role in their recovery through participatory planning exercises at city and neighbourhood level.

Working with Haitian engineers trained to conduct the work, the agency has also assessed the safety of 18,000 homes as a first and necessary step for safe return. Fifteen thousand buildings and households were surveyed with local communities in a participatory process to establish residential tenure status reconstruction assistance.

Thirty Ministry of Public Works engineers were trained in community promotion, demonstration and outreach activities, and in media communication on hazard resistant construction. Radio programmes reached 1 million listeners on safer construction and a communications plan is now in place with the Ministry of Public Works. Other programmes are designed to strengthen the role of key Ministries, local authorities and local communities, setting up technical departments in 10 municipalities, paving the way for effective decentralization, and safer and better construction.

In a speech marking the anniversary widely quoted by international news organizations, President Michel Martelly said the government had directly received only one third of the aid pledged to the Caribbean nation, and he urged aid donors to cooperate more closely with his government. He made the remarks as he thanked the countries and international organizations which stepped in to help Haiti deal with the crisis.

But Mr. Patrick Rouzier, Presidential Advisor, and Mr. Harry Adams, Director of the Unit for Housing Reconstruction and Public Buildings, linked to the Prime Minister's Office, said in statements that UN-Habitat had always played key technical advisory role to the Haitian Government.

Former American President, Mr. Bill Clinton, who serves as the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, joined President Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe in placing a wreath at a mass burial site north of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

In brief remarks to journalists, Mr. Clinton, was quoted as saying: "I think that you will see, particularly in the economic sphere, a lot more in the coming year, where Haiti is projected to have the highest growth rate in the Caribbean.

"We hope to speed up some of the infrastructure. We have to repair the agriculture and ... build a lot more houses. We've got to get those people out of those tents."

Dr. Clos echoed his words in calling for better ways of addressing what he called "the biggest urban disaster of recent decades".

"We should not hesitate to push the global reflection on how to respond better to an urban crisis, re-thinking the humanitarian response, and how to make cities more resilient," Dr. Close said adding that Hurricane Sandy late in 2012 was a further reminder that Haiti is exposed to multiple hazards and frequent small and large disasters which have a "particularly severe impact" when they strike urban areas, where losses are higher, displacement is complex and reconstruction difficult and expensive. "Those in poor quality housing and marginal locations suffer most. Urban disasters can cripple governments and economies."

UN-Habitat works closely in Haiti with the Prime Minister's Office, the ministries of Public Works, Planning, Interior and Local Authorities, Municipalities, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, the European Union, Irish Aid, the German chemical company BASF, the French embassy, Spanish Cooperation, Swiss Development Cooperation, as well as a range of international and national NGOs and neighbourhood groups.

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