Given Haiti�s long history of mismanagement of funds, international donors were hesitant to write a blank check. And foreign governments had concerns as well about the government�s ability to direct a large reconstruction project after most government buildings were flattened or severely damaged in the Jan. 12 quake.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, addressing representatives from 14 countries and the European Union, tried to head off such fears. �The Haitian government is working in precarious conditions,� he said at the opening of the conference, �but it can provide the leadership that people expect.�
To show he was still running the country, President Ren� Pr�val, whose office at the National Palace was destroyed, sent aides to the palace grounds to begin the process of building temporary offices and lodging for him there. His private home was also destroyed in the quake, and he has been running the government out of a police station, with his ministers addressing the news media under a mango tree.
Mr. Pr�val, who has yet to formally address the country since the earthquake, also issued a written plea for immediate aid on Monday, asking for 200,000 sturdy, family-size tents and 1.5 million food rations.
Patrick Delatour, a presidential aide, said the $3 billion that the government needs to remake the country would be used to house 200,000 people left homeless in 200 model communities complete with schools and health care centers, as well as to rebuild government ministries and national infrastructure.
But the government�s figure was not immediately embraced by the countries being called on to pick up the tab. A United States State Department official called it premature. And Mr. Bellerive said that Haiti had made no specific requests for money or other assistance in Montreal because it was still assessing its needs.
�We�re trying to do this in the correct order,� Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Montreal. �Sometimes people have pledging conferences and pledge money, and they don�t have any idea what they�re going to do with it. We actually think it�s a novel idea to do the needs assessment first and then the planning and then the pledging.�
The donor nations called for an independent damage assessment, which could begin as early as next week, made up of experts from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program.
�This is an opportunity,� said Eric Overvest, the Haiti director for the United Nations program. �You can see opportunities in awful situations, and it is possible to rebuild a better Port-au-Prince.�
Before the quake, the capital had been dangerously overcrowded, with makeshift homes built on the steep hillsides surrounding the city and narrow, winding roads clogged with traffic. Construction standards were all but absent. �We have to do things differently,� said Jacques Gabriel, the minister of public works. �We�re sending a message to the population not to rebuild their damaged homes. It�s not safe. We need to evaluate the buildings first.�
The donor nations agreed that the Haitian government would be front and center in the international effort to rebuild the country, with the United Nations acting as a conduit for donations. They also agreed that the aid would be closely tracked.
�We bear a responsibility to our taxpayers to assure that the money that our government commits will be well spent, transparently, and with results on the ground for the Haitian people,� Mrs. Clinton said.
In marathon meetings over the last week, Mr. Delatour said, the beleaguered Haitian government considered moving the capital to a new location. But he said it was agreed that doing so would take too long and cost too much.
Instead, he said, officials intend to keep most government ministries close to the locations where they fell. He said, however, that some secondary services might be moved out of the downtown to address the chronic overcrowding and insecurity that has long plagued the area.
�God didn�t strike with a short-term plan and a long-term plan,� Mr. Delatour said. �He just hit like Muhammad Ali. One shot and we�re lying on the mat.�
He said the government would focus most of its attention on putting roofs back over people�s heads. And in the meantime, he said, rebuilding businesses and public offices would allow the government and the private sector to put people to work.
�Our motto is �build back better,��� he said.
In addition to the sheer magnitude of the physical task ahead, Mr. Delatour said that Haiti�s recovery effort was challenged by the difficulty of coordinating the countless countries and humanitarian organizations eager to provide assistance. And he said it would not be easy for the government, with its long history of corruption, to win people�s trust.
Rather than waiting for a government they are skeptical of to help them out of this crisis, Mr. Delatour said, Haitians of all classes have already begun their own recovery efforts. Port-au-Prince is bustling with work crews hired by those with means to clear away the rubble so they can begin rebuilding their homes or businesses.
Towns outside the capital have been flooded by earthquake victims in search of places to start new lives, stretching water, food and other essential resources dangerously thin. And the poorest of the poor have settled into makeshift camps across the city, many of them vowing not to move without credible assurances that the government intends to provide them with stable living arrangements.
�Haitians have been managing their own survival for 200 years, so they�re not waiting for the government,� Mr. Delatour said. �The government is playing catch-up.�
In the back of everyone�s mind here was a fear of the donor fatigue that typically sinks in when disasters stretch on too long. Haitian officials were eager to capitalize on the international outpouring of support by outlining their needs now.
Mrs. Clinton declined to say how much the United States would provide in the long term. The donor nations� foreign ministers will meet again in March at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The one-day meeting in Montreal was not intended to map out a detailed plan for Haitian reconstruction. Instead its goal was to develop a structure for future, extended talks about the reconstruction.
�This conference is an initial, albeit critical, step on the long road to recovery,� said Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian foreign minister. �We need to identify with the Haitian government key priorities in order to define a road map of the tasks ahead.�