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9394: EdH and Haiti (fwd)

From: JRAuguste1@aol.com

No electricity at home so Haitians study in parks

By Trenton Daniel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, June 20 (Reuters) - Anode Fidele, a high school student in 
Haiti, visits downtown Place Jeremie two or three times a week to study for 
her classes. 

Rather than staying at home, where many feel compelled to retreat in fear of 
street crime in this poor Caribbean nation, Fidele, 18, braves the public 
plaza at night, coming around 7 p.m. and leaving at around 9 or 10. 

She has little choice. In the past few months, state-owned Electricity of 
Haiti (EdH) has left most of the capital's 2.5 million residents in the dark 
for much of the time. 

"This is a grave problem -- the government doesn't give us electricity very 
often," said Fidele, taking a break from reading her philosophy book. "Since 
the park is the only place with electricity, I come here." 

She was not the only one that night. The Carrefour-Feuilles district plaza, 
filled with people playing basketball or just hanging out, has also become 
one of a handful of popular places for Port-au-Prince residents to find light 
to read at night. 

Blackouts have grown increasingly common in the capital, with many people cut 
off from electricity for anywhere from 16 to 22 hours a day. In some of the 
capital's congested shantytowns, people go days without electricity. 

Even the wealthy with inverters that convert battery-stored DC power to AC 
current suffer because the electric company cannot pump enough energy to 
recharge the batteries. 

Students who are not lucky enough to live near a lighted public plaza have to 
modify their study schedules according to that of EdH. If the government 
supplies power between 3 and 5 a.m., students wake up and study between those 
hours. If they do not have any electricity, they may go to class unprepared. 

But two government deals offer hope: a joint agreement with Miami-based 
Energy International and Haytian Tractor in Port-au-Prince and another with a 
private engineering firm based in the Dominican Republic. 

The former is a $5 million deal that would provide 20 megawatts of 
electricity per day for a minimum of eight months. It was signed in April and 
is scheduled to go in effect in mid-June, said Reynold Bonnefil, owner of 
Haytian Tractor. 

The other is a $20-million contract that would provide 50 megawatts per day 
over a three-year period, officials said. 


EdH general director Pierre Francois Sildor said the contracts should bring 
about 33 percent more electricity to Haiti and give the company some 
breathing room to make repairs to broken generators. 

In addition, recent heavy rainfall in the Central Plateau increased power 
production at a hydroelectric plant, helping EdH provide six to eight hours 
of power a day compared to about three hours from February through April, 
Sildor said, adding that Haiti needs 350 megawatts per day. 

But even if these deals pan out, critics are not sure the situation will 
improve since EdH's problems of "mismanagement" and "politics" could 
continue, said economist Jean-Claude Paulvin, president of ECOSOF, an 
economic consulting firm. 

"There's the problem of management, to the extent that people cannot properly 
manage the plant. ... There is about 50 percent of distributed power that is 
not being paid for. It is stolen," said Paulvin, who also serves as vice 
president for the Association of Haitian Economists. 

Paulvin said residents in poorer neighborhoods resort to stealing electricity 
because they cannot afford it but feel entitled to it. It is also a political 
problem, he said, because the government cannot enforce the laws. 

Haiti's justice system is "poorly organized and nearly moribund" and 
"impunity remains a problem," a U.S. State Department Human Rights report 
said last February. 

EdH union members say they disconnect residents who do not pay for 
electricity but they say they have been attacked and beaten when they have 
tried to cut off service or collect payments. 

Haiti's infrastructure problems stem from decades of neglect and a political 
crisis that has gripped the country for years. Donor nations suspended some 
$500 million in aid over disputed legislative elections held in May 2000. 

The administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and opposition parties 
have failed to reach agreement on how to remedy the election dispute. 

"The government and EdH should put their heads together," said Auguste 
Joseph, 19, another high school student studying in Carrefour-Feuilles. "I 
hope they will respect the contract (deals with electric providers) so that 
we will have a solution to the problem." 

22:01 06-19-01

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