Fifteen months after an earthquake devastated Haiti's capital, the country's newly elected president, Michel Martelly, says he recognizes that he and his nation face a major rebuilding task.

Michel Martelly

Speaking after an April 20 meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C., Martelly said, through an interpreter, “Clearly, I have huge challenges in front of me, but I intend to meet them.” He added, “The reconstruction process is despairingly slow.”

Martelly, a former entertainer, said that 1.7 million Haitians “still live under tents” and that, unless more people are vaccinated against cholera, the epidemic could widen with the hurricane season that is due to start on June 1.

Martelly said his priorities as president will be education, relocating people into permanent housing and reviving agriculture.

About 220,000 died in the Jan. 11, 2010, magnitude-7 quake, whose epicenter was 25 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

Clinton gave Martelly a strong endorsement, saying, “We are behind him.”

She said there has been progress in Haiti. More than 2 million cubic yards of rubble have been removed, she noted; however, that amount represents only about 20% of the total left by the quake. Clinton added, “We want to do everything we can to be a good partner for Haiti as it takes steps that it must take, making it easier, for example, to transfer ownership of state-owned land for affordable housing, to streamline the process for registering new businesses, getting construction permits approved, attracting investment and encouraging growth.”

Of the $4.6 billion in assistance that countries and multinational organizations pledged after the quake, $1.7 billion has been disbursed, the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti reported on April 6.

Of the amount disbursed, $345 million, or 20%, has gone to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. About $1.2 billion has been allocated in the form of grants to the Haitian government, multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations and private contractors.