By Ramon Sahmkow, AFP
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — Haiti faces an “immense challenge” to rebuild after January’s earthquake, President Rene Preval told a donors’ conference Wednesday called to speed payment of billions of dollars in pledges.
Recovery projects to be financed with the 10 billion dollars promised from an initial donors’ meeting in New York in March will produce “a more decentralized, fairer Haiti,” Preval told the event in the Dominican Republic resort of Punta Cana.
Former US president Bill Clinton, who co-chairs a commission with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive overseeing much of the reconstruction funds, called on donors to make good on their pledges to realize those plans.
So far, only Brazil has stumped up all its promised sum — 55 million dollars — according to the Haitian economy ministry.
Wednesday’s conference, titled the “World Summit for the Future of Haiti,” was aimed at extracting more of the pledged money, defining reconstruction projects and deadlines, as well as reassuring donor countries that the World Bank would oversee the process to minimize embezzlement and corruption.
“Today, we have a very clear framework in terms of what we must do,” said Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. “This is not just a meeting to look over what has been done, but really to set out a program, adopt it and put it into action.”
The event was attended by top officials from Europe and the Americas, with more than 50 countries represented.
According to aid experts, Haiti needs about 11.5 billion dollars for its anticipated decade-long rebuilding effort.
The January 12 earthquake effectively leveled the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 250,000 people and leaving 1.3 million living in precarious tent camps exposed to tropical storms in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
The economy of Haiti — already the poorest country in the Americas — was badly hit.
Even though international aid has flowed in, the magnitude of the disaster means reconstruction efforts have been slow to materialize.
Much of the country’s infrastructure — roads, water distribution and electricity — has to be rebuilt, along with schools and universities.
Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, hosting the conference, stressed that “Haiti is not alone, and never will be.”
The Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (ICRH) headed by Clinton and Bellerive has an 18-month mandate to oversee rebuilding. After that time has elapsed, the Haitian government is to take full charge.
The World Bank said last week it had canceled Haiti’s remaining debt of 36 million dollars to help the country pursue its reconstruction.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also urged countries to set favorable trade terms for Haitian businesses, in a bid to help speed Haiti’s recovery.
The United Nations has warned Haiti against any unconstitutional change of leadership amid moves by the opposition to force Preval to resign, but it backed moves to hold elections by the end of the year.
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