13 Feb 2010

Haiti will not die, emotional president tells mourners

10:42 pm on 13 February 2010

The people of Haiti are holding a day of national mourning for the victims of the earthquake that struck exactly a month ago.

Church services were held across the country, with the main one in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Near the ruins of the National Palace, the BBC reports, leaders of Haiti's two official religions - a Catholic bishop and the head of the Voodoo priests, both robed in white - joined ministers from Protestant denominations.

Hundreds of people gathered in the shade of mimosa trees, including President Rene Preval, who wept during the service and was comforted by his wife.

'We will find the strength to go on'

"Today, allow me as citizen Rene Preval, the man, the father of a family, to address you to say that I cannot find the words to speak of this immense pain," he said in his address.

"It is in your courage that we will find the strength to go on.

"Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die."

A prayer service was also held north of the capital at the site of a mass grave where tens of thousands of people are believed to be buried.

At the same time as the quake hit - 4.53pm Friday (10.53am Saturday NZ time) - Haitians at home and abroad were asked to kneel and pray.

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations Food agency says he's alarmed by how little money has been given to support agriculture in Haiti.

Jacques Diouf says so far they've received only 8% of an appeal for $23m for agriculture.

Downpour drenches makeshift camps

The BBC's correspondent in Port-au-Prince says a heavy downpour on the eve of the anniversary provided a foretaste of the misery that lies ahead for the many people who still have only the flimsiest shelter in makeshift camps.

With the United Nations Refugee Agency saying the humanitarian situation is still dire, the European Union has proposed a military mission to step up the provision of shelter before the rains worsen.

This week's Haitian government figures suggest that the quake killed up to 230,000 people - nearly as many as the 250,000 who died in the 2004 Asian tsunami. Even more were injured, and a million people lost their homes.

Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue says the toll is not definitive. It does not include bodies buried by private funeral homes in private cemeteries, or those buried by their own families.