Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiti to Ask for $3 Billion at Donors Conference


Men rode a backhoe in Port-au-Prince on Monday as the work of demolishing the many ruined buildings in the city continued. Workers face the dilemma of what to do with bodies trapped in buildings as they begin to demolish structures across the city.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Haiti will ask the international conference meeting in Montreal on Monday for $3 billion to rebuild this city, left largely in ruins by the Jan. 12 earthquake, according to a senior Haitian government official.

The official — the tourism minister, Patrick Delatour — was assigned by the Haitian president, René Préval, to assess the earthquake damage and prepare a reconstruction plan. Mr. Delatour said that Haiti would use $2 billion to build housing for the 200,000 people left homeless. The rest, he said, would be used to rebuild government ministries and national infrastructure — including upgrading the seaport and three international airports.

At the conference, representatives from 14 countries and the European Union are trying to determine how to structure aid efforts to a long-impoverished, troubled country subject to both political and natural disasters, with a government that itself suffered severely in the earthquake.

On Monday, the government made clear that it intended to be in command of the reconstruction.

Addressing the conference’s opening, Haiti’s prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, said, “The Haitian government is working in precarious conditions, but it can provide the leadership that people expect.”

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, most government ministries are to remain in Port-au-Prince, but functions may be moved elsewhere, to avert crowding the downtown area during the reconstruction.

While traveling to Montreal on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that the United States has been working closely with the Haitian government for over a year on rebuilding the country and its institutions.

“There’s a tremendous desire to help,” she told reporters. “But we’ve got to create the mechanisms so that it can be done effectively, and we’ve got to get the Haitian government’s capacity to lead put together.”

She declined to say how much money the United States would provide in the long term, adding that she anticipates that large donor nations will meet again in about 30 to 60 days.

Expectations for the conference are limited. The one-day meeting is not intended to map out a detailed plan for Haitian reconstruction. Nor are any major financing announcements expected from the nations that are attending. Instead it is hoped that the meeting will develop a basic structure for future, extended talks about the reconstruction of Haiti.

“This conference is an initial, albeit critical, step on the long road to recovery,” Lawrence Cannon, the minister of foreign affairs for Canada and the host of the conference, said Sunday. “We need to identify with the Haitian government key priorities in order to define a road map of the tasks ahead.”

Several aid groups made presentations at a closed-door session on Monday morning. Before the start of the session, several of them outlined their broad proposals.

Oxfam Canada said it would urge the international community to cancel Haiti’s international debts, which, according to its estimate, total $890 million.

Other aid groups said they would encourage the foreign ministers to look at restructuring Haiti’s society rather than just its physical infrastructure.

Mr. Bellerive made a similar suggestion during his speech.

“We have to do more with less and we have to work in a different fashion,” he told the meeting. “We have to open a vision which will have a list of priorities clearly delineated by the Haitians for the Haitians by democratic means.”

But even before the conference began, some Haitians were doubtful that it would achieve anything significant.

“I don’t see them accomplishing much except a photo opportunity in one day,” Eric A. Pierre, the Haitian consul in Toronto, told The Globe and Mail, a newspaper in that city. “There has to be sustained and continuous dialogue between Haitians and the friends of Haiti.”

Canada claims to be the largest long-term donor of aid to Haiti on a per capita basis. Montreal, a largely French-speaking city, is home to a substantial, and prominent community of Haitian immigrants.

The meeting provides Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, with a convenient political distraction. Canada’s Parliament was supposed to resume Monday after breaking for Christmas. On Dec. 30, however, Mr. Harper, who is attending the Montreal meeting, took the unusual step of temporarily shutting down the legislature, including its committees, until March.

On Saturday, thousands of Canadians marched in several cities to protest the move.

Mr. Harper had also moved to shut down Parliament a year earlier to avoid a confidence vote that almost certainly would have defeated his government, which does not control a majority in the House of Commons.

Ginger Thompson reported from Port-au-Prince and Ian Austen from Montreal.

Source: NyTimes

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