The sounds of gunfire on that day 14 months ago drove Laurencia, now 5, and her mother, Guilene Jean, under the bed.

The walls of the rickety home, fashioned from rusted sheets of iron, offered little protection.

Laurencia, a tiny child with an engaging smile and braided hair, was shot three times and became another victim of Haiti's violence and poverty.

Jean, who at 26 is pregnant with her third child, said: "She doesn't talk about it. But when people ask about the scars, she just says, 'I got shot.'"

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is one of the world's forgotten crises - overshadowed by the Asian tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people, Hurricane Katrina, which swamped one of America's best known cities and a host of other disasters around the globe.

Chance at democracy

The average Haitian lives on less than $2 a day. 

Many Haitians bear the scars of
being caught in crossfire 

The poor have stripped the land of trees for cooking charcoal.

This has added catastrophic soil erosion to a long list of woes as the unstable Caribbean nation takes another stab at democracy after this past month's presidential election, which followed decades of dictatorship, coups and turmoil.
   
Just under 50% of Haitians cannot read, more than two-thirds are unemployed, over half are malnourished.

Aid groups critical

Yet aside from the moments when its political upheavals make news, Haiti is a simmering crisis, not splashy enough to force the world to care, according to foreign aid groups working here.

"It's not spectacular. Sometimes, countries are not interesting. But when you have 48 years of life expectancy, and infant mortality rates are catastrophic, this is an ongoing disaster"

Loris De Filippi
Medecins Sans Frontieres mission in Haiti

Loris De Filippi, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres mission in Haiti, said, "It's not spectacular. Sometimes, countries are not interesting.

"But when you have 48 years of life expectancy, and infant mortality rates are catastrophic, this is an ongoing disaster."
 
Last year, MSF revived the St Catherine Laboure Hospital in Cite Soleil, a squalid, violent shantytown on the northern edge of Port-au-Prince.

Struggling health care

In an inconspicuous walled compound abandoned by Haiti's authorities a year earlier, the group restored health care to a slum that had none.

Doctors say they are seeing people in their 50s who have never had medical care. 
  

Hospital staff work under trying 
conditions with limited resources 

With 70 beds and an operating room, the volunteer doctors and nurses treat bruises, cuts, pregnancies, cancer, diabetes and, in recent months, more than 200 gunshot victims, many caught in the cross-fire between slum gangs and UN troops.
   
Doctors say the use of high-powered weapons in Cite Soleil's maze of concrete and iron shacks produces astonishing wounds among the slum's innocent bystanders.

"The speed of the bullets is very high and the damage is awful, terrible," said Dr. Carlo Elloni of Padua, Italy, who calls conditions in the slum unbelievable.

"I have never seen anything like this. Nothing is working here. Everything is destroyed."

Aid not received

One night in January, gunshots ripped into the metal blinds of the hospital's paediatric ward, which is now protected by a wall of stacked steel drums filled with rocks and concrete.

Bullet holes pock the doors of two small rooms where doctors used to take naps.

Sleeping is no longer allowed there.
 
When a rebellion by a ragtag band of gangs and former Haitian army troops sent President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile two years ago, foreign nations pledged $1.3 billion to rebuild Haiti.

The poor have stripped the land
of trees for cooking charcoal

The United Nations says 45%-50% of the money has been disbursed.

Carine Roenen, country director for Dublin-based Concern Worldwide, said "disbursed means the contracts have been signed. That doesn't mean the money has actually arrived."

Her organisation has a yearly budget of about 4 million euros ($4.8 million) for Haiti.

Shortly after the post-rebellion burst of goodwill toward Haiti, the tsunami struck Asia, Katrina hit New Orleans and Pakistan was crushed by an earthquake. Haiti was shoved to a back-burner again.
  
Susie Krabacher, an American whose Mercy and Sharing Foundation runs three orphanages and six feeding programmes in Haiti, said: "We saw donations drop by about 30% after the tsunami."

Corruption

Aid organisations in Haiti face uphill battles against corruption and feeble government institutions, which slow and sometimes halt the flow of foreign money to projects supplying food and clean water. 
   

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was
forced into exile two years ago

"They virtually have no public administration. There has been a huge, huge brain drain," said Roenen. "Nobody wants to work for the government anymore because it is so weak."

Aid groups are hoping the
7 February election of Rene Preval, an agronomist who served as president from 1996 to 2001, will stabilise Haiti in the eyes of the world and provide a platform to help the poor masses.

"People are interested in Haiti in a negative sense, like when we have to stop drugs from flowing through the country or we have to stop people from getting on boats," Roenen said.

No way out
 
Jean and
Laurencia's shanty is on the edge of a fetid pond whose surface is tinged with an oily residue and a greenish scum.

Pigs root through the tonnes of rotting trash that form its banks.

Jean said she would like to flee this place. But escape doesn't seem possible.

"I don't have any money to go anywhere else," she said.