Haiti seeks frozen loans in standoff

Sunday, May 26, 2002

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti --Few people have access to clean water in Haiti, and most must pay for it. The Inter-American Development Bank could help, but a $54 million loan to improve access to potable water is on hold because of Haiti's political crisis, hampering even modest progress in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Other Development Bank loans also are held up. The United States, a major donor to the Washington-based bank, has blocked release of nearly $150 million in low-interest loans until Haiti's government and opposition settle a long-running election dispute. Also frozen are loans of $19 million for education reform, $50 million for improved roads and $23 million for medical supplies and clinics.

Haiti's government says the water loan is particularly important because infections and diseases spread through contaminated water are a leading cause of death.

The World Health Organization estimates only 46 percent of Haiti's 8 million people have safe drinking water. Networks of water pipes haven't kept up with heavy migration from rural areas to cities, and many water sources are contaminated.

Crowds are common at public fountains that sell filtered water in the capital, Port-au-Prince, a city of 2.5 million people where even well water must be purified.

At the hillside neighborhood of Tete de l'Eau, which means fountainhead, women, children and teen-agers crowd at the taps, passing coins through a metal grate to an attendant. It costs 10 Haitian cents, or 2 U.S. cents, for a gallon.

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