Port-au-Prince – Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has defied numerous attempts to dredge it from a seemingly endless cycle of political and economic mismanagement.
Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady and academic, faces off on Sunday against popular singer Michel Martelly, aged 50, in the long-delayed presidential run-off.
Here are some of the biggest problems for whoever wins the race to succeed President Rene Preval in the first polls since a massive earthquake flattened the capital and killed more than 220 000 people in January 2010:
Stalled quake recovery
Of $2.1bn pledged in 2010 for quake reconstruction, less than half was actually given.
The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), co-chaired by former US president Bill Clinton, has been heavily criticised but needs strong leadership from the Haitian government to forge a working partnership.
Haitian officials voice fears the country is turning into a republic run by foreign NGOs – estimates of how many operate here vary between 1 000 and 10 000.
Donors prefer to channel money through the non-government organisations as they fear they will otherwise feed a bottomless pit of official corruption and incompetence.
NGOs have consequently ended up running key sectors such as schooling and hospitals, while the longer-term priority of addressing the government’s infrastructural shortcomings has been neglected.
Deadly riots in December following the publication of the results of disputed first round elections provided a grim reminder of Haiti’s long history of political turmoil.
A vote review by international monitors and the decision to eliminate ruling party candidate Jude Celestin eventually restored calm.
But now the return of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and imminent return of the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, threaten to open up old divisions and sow further discord.
Until a bona fide successor to Preval is securely installed, international donors will be reluctant to sign any blank checks towards Haiti’s recovery, fearful that political upheaval will return.
One of the biggest problems facing Haiti is basic demographics. Despite one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, the population is booming by almost 2% each year.
Four in 10 Haitians are under the age of 14. Most of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, 70-80% is unemployed and average life expectancy hovers around 30-years-old.
Port-au-Prince’s estimated population of three million is expected to double over the next 15 years. Haitians are drawn to the capital to escape poverty but most end up in sprawling slums.
Haiti would likely benefit from having several smaller growth poles rather than a single, swollen metropolis.
The quake highlighted glaring land ownership issues.
Relocation of survivors into safer, cleaner camps was held up interminably because rich families owned the large tracts of land around Port-au-Prince, while many survivors had no papers to prove ownership of their lots.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that US patience is wearing thin with Haiti’s leadership, which is dominated by elites that control the bulk of the economy, making substantial progress difficult.
As if Haiti’s time-old problems weren’t enough, the first cholera outbreak in more than a century erupted in the central Artibonite River valley in mid-October.
Now, almost 5 000 people are dead and the number of infections runs into the hundreds of thousands. One of the most immediate tasks facing the next Haitian leader is to deal with this burgeoning health crisis.