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9394: EdH and Haiti (fwd)
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
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
The other is a $20-million contract that would provide 50 megawatts per day
over a three-year period, officials said.
MISMANAGEMENT AND POLITICS
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."
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