GENEVA — Haiti is still struggling to provide homes, sanitation and basic health care to hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake four months ago, the country's top Red Cross official said Thursday.
The Caribbean nation was ill-prepared for the devastating temblor that hit the island Jan. 12, killing up to 300,000 people and leaving many more wounded and homeless, the president of the Haitian Red Cross Society said.
"The situation is still very difficult for the people," Michaele Amedee Gedeon told The Associated Press in an interview at the International Red Cross Federation's headquarters in Geneva.
The Red Cross movement has received $800 million in funds and material contributions for Haiti, where it expects to be providing emergency aid for an unprecedented 12 months.
In most disasters, the emergency period is set between three and six months.
"It is the first time we prolonged it because there are so many destitute in Haiti now that we have to take care of their very basic needs," said Gedeon.
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Apart from providing health care, food and materials for shelter, the group is running much of the sewage system in the capital Port-au-Prince.
"We had to take some initiative on sanitation," said Gedeon, noting that the risk of disease remains high in a country where functioning toilets and clean water are luxuries.
At some point that role will have to be transferred to the government to avoid creating dependence on aid groups, she said.
Many ministries were so badly affected by the quake that they haven't been able to resume all of their functions.
Among the most pressing concerns is the need to allocate space for new homes. But the issue is fraught with difficulty because many Haitians don't own the land they live on.
Gedeon said the Red Cross was trying to negotiate the use of some government land for reconstruction.
"I would regret if land was used as a pretext to delay reconstruction," she said.
Looking ahead, the country will have to face the possibility of further earthquakes and prepare for them just as it has for hurricanes and floods, she said. "Every day now we have to live with the fact that earthquakes are a reality."
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