Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Skepticism on Pledges for Haiti

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — An international effort to finance the reconstruction of Haiti attracted billions of dollars in pledges at a conference here on Wednesday, but the very size of the outpouring raised questions about whether the commitments would be met and how fast the financial support could help salve the needs of the Haitian people.

“Now it comes down to implementation,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general. “We must make sure that Haiti gets the money it needs when it needs it.”

The pledges, from 59 nations or international organizations, add up to nearly $5.3 billion over the next two years, and a total of $9.9 billion for three years or more, Mr. Ban said. It was unclear how much of that constituted new money and how much had been allocated before, but Haiti itself had sought initial pledges of $3.9 billion, and Mr. Ban set the target at $11.5 billion over the next decade.

The United States was among the largest single donors, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton committing to $1.15 billion on top of the more than $900 million already spent.

“Aid is important, but aid has never saved a country,” Mrs. Clinton said, noting that the Haitians would have to do the work with the help of the international community.

Haitians remain skeptical because millions of dollars were pledged in the past for hurricane relief, but only a fraction was actually paid.

Donors said the scale of this disaster — a magnitude-7 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas on Jan. 12 — was different.

“All those others did not come after an earthquake, an earthquake that was a shocking and brutal event for the rest of the world,” said Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, in an interview. Indeed, some of the smaller pledges came from far-flung countries like Mali, which said it would give $200,000, and Montenegro, which pledged $10,000.

Yet anger mounts among Haitians who hear about billions in aid while hundreds of thousands of them still struggle for earthquake relief.

Georges B. Sassine, a Haitian businessman with a delegation presenting its own reconstruction plan, said that his countrymen were waiting to hear that things were moving, that “x, y and z are going to start now.” It was a message echoed by members of the Haitian diaspora, nongovernmental organizations and others, a cross section of society allowed to address the gathering; even for a United Nations conference, it was a wide array.

The money is supposed to be funneled into a multinational fund supervised by the World Bank, and then doled out through projects agreed to by an interim reconstruction commission consisting of Haitians and the largest donors. Former President Bill Clinton and the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, are to lead the commission.

Aid experts point to the lack of adequate shelter, a critical issue for safety and public health, as a sign that the sluggish aid response in some sectors must speed up, particularly as hurricane season approaches.

“There is mud and dirt everywhere, and a plastic sheet and a tarp is not going to do it,” said William G. O’Neill, a Haiti expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York and a periodic consultant for the United Nations mission. “That just didn’t sink in for some reason.” Donors should have started shipping temporary houses months ago, he said.

The speed at which the world’s attention can shift was underscored at a news conference by a sudden raft of questions about possible new Security Council negotiations over Iran sanctions.

Despairing the change in focus, Haiti’s president, René Préval, cracked, “Do I need to develop a nuclear program for Haiti so that we come back to talking about Haiti?”

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