By TRENTON DANIEL Associated Press
The Haitian government plans a low-key ceremony Saturday for the third anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the country and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
President Michel Martelly will preside over a subdued memorial on the grounds of the former National Palace, which was destroyed in the disaster and later demolished. Senior government officials and diplomats are expected to attend.
Martelly said he hopes the poor Caribbean nation’s people use the anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010, disaster to think about how they can improve their lives.
“The main thing for me is to use this day to plunge Haitians into deep reflection,” Martelly said Friday. “I need tomorrow to bring my country, my people enough reflection where they decide to do things in other ways.”
Martelly is to give a speech Saturday morning and then go to a mass grave north of the capital to lay a wreath. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, will also visit the burial site.
The United Nations plans a small private memorial. Last year, the U.N. held a service to remember its 102 employees who died — the biggest loss of life of U.N. personnel in a single disaster.
Haiti’s government says the quake killed about 316,000 people. An additional 1.5 million people landed in impromptu settlements around the capital and other cities in the south.
People have moved out of the more visible camps in public plazas but there are still more than 350,000 people living in the camps, according to the International Organization of Migration, a humanitarian group that helps people displaced by disaster and conflict.
The reconstruction effort has been slow to take hold because of political paralysis, the level of devastation and a trickle of aid. Only slightly more than half of the $5.3 billion pledged by donors has been released, according to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.
The government said that this year Jan. 12 will not be a holiday marking the earthquake as in the last two years. But it said in a statement it has asked that the Haitian flag be flown at half-mast and that nightclubs be closed.
Officials last year noted the occasion with back-to-back news conferences and meetings with Clinton in attendance and foreign aid groups touting their accomplishments.