Thursday, June 3, 2010

Haiti donors urged to keep promises

Haiti's president has called on leaders from Europe and the Americas to keep their promises of aid for the Caribbean country as it struggles to rebuild from the January's devastating earthquake.

Speaking at a donor conference in the neighbouring Dominican Republic on Wednesday, Rene Preval said that the nation faced an "immense challenge" to rebuild.

According to aid experts, Haiti needs about $11.5bn for its anticipated decade-long rebuilding effort.

But so far, Haitian government officials say, only Brazil has delivered its entire aid pledge of $55m.

Speaking to representatives of more than 50 donor nations on Wednesday, Preval said planned recovery projects to be financed by funds pledged at a donors meeting in March would produce "a more decentralised, fairer Haiti".

The meeting in New York had pledged $5.3bn toward Haiti's reconstruction over the next two years and $9.9bn over the next decade, but little of that money has so far arrived.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who co-chairs a commission overseeing much of the reconstruction funds, also called on donors to make come through on their pledges to realise Haiti's recovery plans.

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 minimise embezzlement and corruption.

"Today, we have a very clear framework in terms of what we must do," said Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States.

"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."

Democracy in jeopardy

The top UN representative to Haiti also warned that the country's struggling democracy was in jeopardy if there was no improvement in the lives of millions of earthquake survivors.

"The longer that the victims continue living in precarious conditions, the more they will have reason to be discontent," Edmond Mulet said at the conference.

"That discontent can be manipulated for political ends."

Officials also discussed ways to finance a planned November 28 election to replace Preval, whose term expires next year.

Preval ignited off street protests in the capital Port-au-Prince when he published a law extending his term by up to three months if the election is not held on time.

On Wednesday however, he reiterated a pledge to step down as scheduled on February 7.

The January 12 earthquake effectively levelled Port-au-Prince, killing more than 250,000 people and leaving 1.3 million living in precarious tent camps exposed to tropical storms.

The economy of Haiti - already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere - was badly hit.

While international aid has flowed in, the magnitude of the disaster means reconstruction efforts have been slow to have an impact.

Much of the country's infrastructure - roads, water distribution and electricity - has to be rebuilt, along with schools and universities.

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